350MC – Reflection/Script/List of References/Bibliography – Storytelling and Documentation: From One Mouth to Another Ear

S T O R Y T E L L I N G   A N D   D O C U M E N T A T I O N:

F R O M   O N E   M O U T H   T O   A N O T H E R   E A R

 

B R I A N   M E T A

 

The way in which stories are told can vastly change what is communicated to the recipient. Perhaps the documenter wishes to exaggerate a certain point in the subject’s story, or chooses to tell it in a way to suit a different audience. However, the documenter chooses what to report with a certain intention. A particular area of interest is the comparison between an insider and an outsider telling a story, especially in the common example of photographic documentation. This essay will examine the complexity of the ‘inside/outside’ position of the photographer in relation to their subject, where truth is associated with being on the inside and objectivity is related to being on the outside, and how this affects the representation of the subject and the story the photographer tells about them. Firstly the binary couple inside/outside will be discussed with theory mainly from Abigail Solomon-Godeau and Susan Sontag, followed by analysis on the work done by Dalia Khamissy and Marcus Bleasdale. Lastly, an interpretation of the method implemented by Shahidul Alam to address this dilemma.

In her 1994 essay Inside/Out, Abigail Solomon-Godeau explores the inside/outside position of the photographer, introducing Diane Arbus as an example of an outsider. This is supported by Susan Sontag in her 1977 publication On Photography, where Sontag critiques Arbus’ work,  on deviants and marginalised people, referring to Arbus as a “… supertourist” (Sontag 1977: 42) for objectifying people and lacking empathy towards her subjects. From this it is understood that the insider position is considered good implying a position of partaking, engagement and privileged knowledge and the isolated outsider position is considered bad, due to an alienated distance between the photographer and subject. This is affirmed by Martha Rosler, a writer and artist who authored In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography), who views outsider photography as ‘victim photography’ and suggests self-representation as an alternative, empowering the subjects and promoting equality. “… The binary couple inside/outside” (Solomon-Godeau 1994: 49) can be seen as a central theme to the issue of photographic documentation, spanning from Sontag contrasting empathy and disconnection with the subject, to Rosler highlighting issues from a Marxist perspective, of authority, subjection and equality. Despite this fact, the photojournalist, the ‘supertourist’, the documentary photographer etc. still commits an act of violence, by taking something from the subject, only seeing a partial and distorted view of the subject to be represented, listening and recording only what they find engaging.

Dalia Khamissy, a photographer born and brought up in Beirut, covers socio-political stories from across the region. Khamissy’s work The Missing focuses on the 17,000 people who went missing during 1975-1990 in the Lebanese civil war. In a 2013 interview for Phonar, Khamissy recalls an occasion where a busload of people drove past with cameras taking photographs whilst she stood outside with one of her subjects listening to her story. Indeed, this morbidly voyeuristic action is an illustration of photographers being on the outside due to the disregard of their subjects and lack of compassionate involvement, comparable to Arbus’ work mentioned earlier. In contrast to Arbus, Khamissy’s work is an example of work forged by an insider, which Solomon-Godeau refers to as the ‘confessional’ mode (Solomon-Godeau 1994: 52). Furthermore, in her photographs we can see that the camera does not distance her from her subjects, but paradoxically almost creates clarity and compassion, letting the viewer know that her work and photographs are purely for her subjects, putting them before herself. The photographs within her subjects’ homes show how close Khamissy came to the subjects with her camera, triggering the viewer to assume an intimate relationship between the photographer and the subject. In his 1979 publication The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, Roland Barthes summarised the analgesic sensation of viewing photographs of despair by writing, “Someone has shuddered for us; reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence” (Barthes 1979: 71). To put it differently, one observes photographs of tragic events and feels relieved that they are not taking place nearby. Khamissy’s work does not give a voyeuristic impression. With her photographs she tells the stories of people she relates to who have been in situations she has had or has heard of. Being born and raised in Beirut distinguishes her from other outside photographers, due to her innate connection with the people and the land, giving her access to these opportunities.

Although Khamissy’s work is incredibly intimate, it is still only Khamissy’s version of the authentic story. The viewer will never be able to understand or experience the reality exactly in the way Khamissy’s subjects have and neither will the photographer due to everyone’s unique perceptions and approaches in life.

Similar to Khamissy, Marcus Bleasdale is a photographer who has shown compassion for his subjects through his photographic work but, has also done so in his actions outside of photography. Bleasdale has set up an orphanage in eastern Congo with a group of journalists to help solve the crisis there, which now looks after 97 children. These actions place Bleasdale in a complex position when it comes to using the inside/outside dualism. Bleasdale is a white, western photojournalist, and would regularly be considered as an outsider in the regions he works in. However, his work has the intimacy of an insider, and lacks the ‘clinicality’ that one would expect from an outsider. Bleasdale was among the few journalists covering the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic during 2013/2014, documenting the violence for Human Rights Watch. In his 2002 publication One Hundred Years of Darkness, he covered the conflict within the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1998. These works and others have given him recognition for influencing policymakers around the world.

It is clear in Bleasdale’s work and commentaries that he has a substantial amount of understanding and involvement in the situations he documents and consideration for the people represented in his work. In a 2013 interview with photographer Jonathan Worth, Bleasdale states that the “… image is one part of it, understanding the environment, the people and the concept is far more important” (Bleasdale 2013). From this it is observed that photography can be deeper than a single image when the concept of narrative is used, almost countering Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous ‘decisive moment’. This relates to Khamissy’s recollection of the reactive photographers mentioned earlier. The photographs produced from the ‘drive by shooters’ in Khamissy’s memory would lack the depth Bleasdale speaks of due to being nothing more than photographs shot at a decisive moment with no connection or understanding to what is inside the photographic image. Bleasdale’s understanding of photographic documentation resonates with Robert Capa’s axiom, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”, which was transformed during a 2007 talk in New York by practitioner Tod Papageorge, to; “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not reading enough” (Papageorge 2007). This more recent version addresses the necessity of every photographer to understand what they are photographing; to become familiar with the context and subject. The only knowledge we have of events are those that someone else has narrated to us, which is important to consider when the role of storyteller is taken on. Context can be found in different forms; typically it is through extensive research, however, it can also be achieved through living and experience which come together to enlighten the choices photographers make. Context is a defining factor in making an image, in a 2010 talk for Phonar, David Campbell outlines its importance by stating that “… the work that sustains itself over time is the work that understands its own context” (Campbell 2010).

However, like Khamissy, Bleasdale’s work is only his version of the true story, a copy carved into paper through writing and image. Yet, Bleasdale is different in that he is situated in the complex position between outsider and insider, an ‘unplotted’ relationship between him and his subjects. This raises the point that perhaps Solomon-Godeau’s binarism of insider/outsider is not just a duality, but could be better described as a scale, insider on one end and outsider on the other. Judgment of where on the scale a photographer lies would be made through the amount of engagement, involvement, compassion etc. which is undertaken in the stories of the people the photographer represents. This also highlights that no one can truly become an ‘absolute insider’ to someone else’s story apart from the original storyteller. When photographers document someone else’s story the true and undistorted version of that narrative remains with the original storyteller. In other words, only the creator of the story who has experienced and lived through it can be the absolute insider to that story, others can empathise, but will never feel it in the same way the original storyteller has as it has been created through their unique experiences, emotions and perspectives.

Powerful stories, however, have a need to be shared and the original storyteller may not have the skills and/or resources to disseminate their stories around the globe, which is why photographers and journalists undertake the role of storyteller in order to relay their stories for them, some doing it well, some not.

Shahidul Alam is a storyteller and photographer from Bangladesh who, in his own way understood the impossibility of becoming an absolute insider to someone else’s story. In a 2013 talk for Phonar, Alam states that, “The photographs taken at the time were taken by visiting photographers, usually white person photographers, who came over with a certain type of imagery” (Alam 2013). He blames them for this distortion of information capturing only famine, poverty and hardship. However even as a Bangladeshi photographer, he was a middle-class male and recognised this as being a barrier between himself and other people. For instance, while he would take photographs of, say, a woman in a slum in Bangladesh, the distance between them was similar to the distance between the subject and a foreign photographer, both being outsiders and being in positions of authority over the woman, leaving her subjugated. Alam, wanted to give these people the opportunity to represent themselves and to be able to tell their own stories in the hopes of ending ‘supertourism’ and preventing a distorted and decontextualised reproduction of the original storyteller’s narrative. In her 2003 publication Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag explains, in contradiction of decontextualisation, how matching images of children slaughtered in rural bombardments were handed around during Croatian and Serbian propaganda meetings in the period of the Balkan wars (Sontag 2003: 9). The Rural Visual Journalism Network (RVJN) and DRIK were created by Alam empowering the rural people of Bangladesh to tell their own story and to combat the interests of mainstream media and to address perception about majority world people. RJVN started with Alam teaching rural people how to use recording devices to tell and record their own stories, allowing an absolute insider’s perspective. The stories would then be sent to RVJN to be disseminated without intervention or manipulation to the stories.

To recapitulate, the first point to note is the notion that the insider/outsider position of the photographer that has been investigated is more complex than just a duality. It should, instead, be seen as a scale with inside and outside being on both extremes. Secondly, due to people’s unique perceptions, perspectives and experiences in life, the only absolute insider to a story would be the creator of that story. Once the story gets passed on, going through its first iteration, it only becomes a version of the original and will be different, even if similar. Humans are unique; therefore, it is logical to consider that their stories would also be unique. Thirdly, a photographer attempting to relay the storyteller’s narrative, through their own photography in the way that the person they are representing would, is attempting the impossible. Without a doubt, Alam’s method of allowing the original storyteller to speak their story solves this dilemma of getting the undistorted story of the absolute insider out to the world. However, systems like this need to be implemented around the globe for it to make a material impact.

Ultimately, as photographers and storytellers it is important to recognise the power of the camera. The ethics in which we can distort an image should be questioned, considering how the viewers can have their prejudices persuaded and how the subjects are affected, the kind of disservice they can be subjected to through the images produced and the actions both taken, and not taken when doing so.


L I S T   O F   R E F E R E N C E S

Barthes, R. (1979) ‘The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies’ New York: Hill and Wang 71

Driknews.com, (2012) Driknews :: International News Photo Agency [online] available from <http://www.driknews.com/&gt; [28 October 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Dalia Khamissy : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/DaliaKhamissy281013&gt; [11 November 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Marcus Bleasdale #Phonar : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/MarcusBTask&gt; [9 December 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Shahidul Alam : Jonathan Worth : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/ShahidulAlamWorth&gt; [14 November 2014]

Pathshala.net, (2011) Pathshala South Asian Media Institute [online] available from <http://pathshala.net/&gt; [16 November 2014]

Papageorge, T. (2007) ‘Collapsing Images (Truth and Authenticity in Photography Part III)’ New York Public Library: Blind Spot

Rosler, M. (1981) ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)’ Rosler 3 Works, Halifax, N.S.: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 306-339

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994) ‘Inside/Out (Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, Exhibition)’ Catalog. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. New York: Art Publishers, 49-62

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On Photography’ New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 41-42

Sontag, S. (2003) ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ London: Penguin Books: Hamish Hamilton 9

SoundCloud, (2010) David Campbell – Narrative, Power And Responsibility available from <https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell&gt; [13 November 2014]


B I B L I O G R A P H Y

Adams, R. (1994) ‘Why People Photograph’ New York: Aperture

Akeret, R.U. (1973) ‘How to Interpret the Hidden Psychological Meaning of Personal Photographs’ New York: Peter H. Wyden, Inc.

Barrett, T. (2000) ‘Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images’ California: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Barthes, R. (1979) ‘The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies’ New York: Hill and Wang 71

Barthes, R. (1984) ’Camera Lucida’ London: Fontana

Bate, D. (2009) ‘Photography: The Key Concepts’ Oxford: Berg

Bull, S. (2010) ‘Photography’ London: Routledge

Davies, L. (2014) Shoot Stories: Marcus Bleasdale – Telegraph available from <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/10644785/Shoot-Stories-Marcus-Bleasdale.html&gt; [26 October 2014]

Driknews.com, (2012) Driknews :: International News Photo Agency available from <http://www.driknews.com/&gt; [28 October 2014]

Fontcuberta, J. (2014) ‘Pandora’s Camera’ S.l: Mack

Grundberg, A. (1990) ‘Crisis Of The Real’ New York: Massachusetts: Aperture Foundation, 167-212

Hornblower, S. (2012) Spawforth, A. & E. Eidinow (eds.), ‘The Oxford Classical Dictionary 4th Ed’ Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 695-696

Internet Archive, (2013) Dalia Khamissy : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/DaliaKhamissy281013&gt; [11 November 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Marcus Bleasdale #Phonar : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/MarcusBTask&gt; [9 December 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Ritchin Bending The Frame Interview :  Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/RitchinBtfInterview&gt; [18 October 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Shahidul Alam : Jonathan Worth : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/ShahidulAlamWorth&gt; [14 November 2014]

Internet Archive, (2013) Stephen Mayes On Tim Hetherington : Internet Archive available from <https://archive.org/details/MayesOnHetherington640x480_201310&gt; [26 October 2014]

Jazeera, T. (2015) Angelique Kidjo: ‘Africa Isn’t Just Diseases’ available from <http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2014/11/angelique-kidjo-africa-isn-just-diseases-2014112813420950185.html&gt; [4 January 2015]

Katyal, M. (2013) Locating The Missing – Dalia Khamissy | Photography | Emaho Magazine available from <http://www.emahomagazine.com/2013/02/locating-the-missing-dalia-khamissy/&gt; [4 January 2015]

Langford, M. (1980) ‘The Story of Photography’ London: Focal Press

Lester, P.M. (2000) ’Visual Communication: Images with Messages’ Belmont: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning

Morris, B. (1986) ‘Images: Illusion and Reality’ Canberra: Australian Academy of Science.

Norwegian Film Institute, (2014) Syrian Hero Boy [online] available from <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAcAKAPmXAw&gt; [30 October 2014]

NVIDIA, (2014) GAME24: Debunking Lunar Landing Conspiracies With Maxwell And VXGI available from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9y_AVYMEUs&gt; [11   October 2014]

Ritchin, F. (1999) ‘In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography’ New York: Aperture

Ritchin, F. 2009 ‘After Photography’ New York: W.W. Norton

Pathshala.net, (2011) Pathshala South Asian Media Institute available from <http://pathshala.net/&gt; [16 November 2014]

Papageorge, T. (2007) ‘Collapsing Images (Truth and Authenticity in Photography Part III)’ New York Public Library: Blind Spot

Rosler, M. (1981) ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)’ Rosler 3 Works, Halifax, N.S.: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 306-339

Rosler, M. (2004) ‘Decoys And Disruptions’ Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press in association with International Center of Photography, New York

Said, E.W. (1979) ‘Orientalism’ New York: Vintage Books

Sekula, A. (1978) ‘Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary (Notes on the Politics of Representation)’ The Massachusetts Review Vol. 19, No. 4. Massachusetts: The Massachusetts Review, Inc, 859-83

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994) ‘Inside/Out (Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document,   Exhibition)’ Catalog. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. New York: Art Publishers, 49-62

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On Photography’ New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 41-42

Sontag, S. (2003) ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ London: Penguin Books: Hamish Hamilton 9

Stallabrass, J. (2013) ‘Documentary (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art)’ London: Whitechapel Gallery

SoundCloud, (2010) David Campbell – Narrative, Power And Responsibility [online] available from <https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell&gt; [13 November         2014]

Taylor, J. (1998) Body Horror. New York: New York University Press

Telegraph, (2008) Career Change: Banker-Turned-Photojournalist [online] available from <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/4015461/Career-change-Banker-turned-photojournalist.html&gt; [16 December 2014]

Wells, L (2009) ‘Photography a Critical Introduction’ 4th edn. Abingdon: Routledge


R E F L E C T I O N / E V A L U A T I O N

During the Symposium I had a small breakdown, my nerves kicked in. The anticipation got to me as it was slowly getting to be my turn. I had to temporarily leave the environment I was in as it was making me tense. I needed to breathe. Whilst in my talk, I realised there were quite a lot of people in the room I did not want to let down. My nerves slowly kicked in again, which meant that I was looking down a lot. There were points in the talk where my words were mixed. Stuttering over some words, I had to improvise my script; but, I don’t think that this was too noticeable.

After the talk, the questions and answers went well, but not as well as I would have liked. My nerves prevented me from thinking as rationally as I would have liked, and I couldn’t communicate the answers I wanted to as well as I could have. The first question I found a little hard to understand, but once it was properly explained to me, due to my nerves preventing me from thinking straight, I could answer it. I explained how when a photographer documents someone else’s story, they should become as much of a tool as the camera itself. They should be in the awkward position of both insider and outsider. You have to Know the context and understand it, having that compassionate attachment to the storyteller/subject, but to also be objective. However, if the photographer chooses to create their own story (not from someone else) then they can have full control of it seeing as it is something they are creating as the true storyteller themselves. My last questions was quite straightforward, however, I made a foolish joke about ‘lie-detecting powers’, due to feeling nervous again! What I meant was that, the photographer/documenter should know if his subject’s story is truth or not, this can be done by doing his own research before encountering the subject. However, if this research obtained is also falsified by the subject and their friends/relatives who could in a way confirm the story for example. Then, in that instance there would truly be no way of knowing if you subject is lying or not. The Q&As, I feel, came out quite well in the end. I felt confident in my subject and I believe I got my message across well enough for my audience to understand.

I would like to look further into storytelling. In my previous module Phonar, I decided that to be able to tell someone else’s story, I had to first start by being able to tell my own. I wrote a small tale about my journey travelling around Southeast Asia which can be found here: https://brianmeta.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/a-soul-scarring-event-unphotographable-phictionspoken-narrative-mash-up/ I was inspired by Shahidul Alam who said that the photographer has to first start by turning the camera around unto yourself, to understand yourself, in order to become the champion of change. So for my FMP, I am working with my housemate Ahmed, who I photographed for one of my Phonar tasks. He is an ex-rebel army sniper from Libya, getting his great story in the hopes of sharing it with others is my main goal. He tells me his story everyday during dinner, I’ve lived with him for about 7 months now, and I feel that we are close enough for him to open up to me about this every night during dinner. I have spoken to Coventry based photographer Jason Scott Tilley about this for guidance and he said he would love to see this in video format. From this, I have thought about curating his story and work from the war, maybe incorporating with some of my images of him to go with it. I will, of course, be sensitive to his identity seeing as that it one this he asks for, but he is happy for me to document him. The subject I have researched during 350MC, and the work I have done for Phonar are all things which will lead to my FMP and I am sure will have a big impact on it’s outcome.

I am grateful for all the advice, service and concern I have received throughout this module. It has all taught me a lot.

If still interested in the subject of storytelling, I recommend looking into the Pathshala Institute as you can learn a lot from there! Shahidul Alam has played a key role in creating it. He believes there is more to storytelling than just photography as it is only a tool of many available to us.

350MC – Research: Other

There has been a lot that I have looked into, however, I have not been able to include all of it into my list of references and main script as it would not fit! I had to think a lot about what I had to leave in and what to edit out in my story (Inspiration from David Campbell)! In other words, I had to put a frame on my story like with a photograph, but had to frame a lot out too.

Most of the things I looked into, however, did give me a lot of help and understanding on the topic I was researching. Most important was Alan Sekula’s essay Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Photography, where he discusses how the camera is a replication of the truth,“The same picture can convey a variety of messages under differing presentational circumstances”. Just like a story a reporter gets from the original storyteller, it is only a replicated distortion of the true story.

Research: Alan Sekula

 

I colour coded my highlighting – Yellow: Anything related to Art – Blue: Anything related to documentary – Pink: Other interesting things to note.

Sekula introduces Martha Rosler in his essay, who, like him, is critical of documentary photography seeing as there is not a lot of social struggle on show on the photographers part. When there is struggle on the photographers part, it elevates the photographer, making him/her seem more ‘noble’. Photography should not be about finding a person in a lower position than you, photographing them, and then celebrate by displaying the photographs you took.


I also did some firsthand research, which I also applied to my Photographic Narrative module, in hopes of inspiring me with my project, during my early stages of research. My original plan was to look into how people from different cultural backgrounds documented things. So I decided to participate with my housemates, collaborating with them. Further details of what i did are on the actual blog post for it which you can find here: https://brianmeta.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/post-photographic-portrait-looking-into-cultural-identity/

However, from this firsthand research, my Final Major Project will be linked to it as I am further looking into Ahmed’s Story which I find very interesting. He talks to me about it everyday. He used to be a sniper for the rebel army which was against Gaddafi in Libya. More info will come soon!


At the start of my essay I was looking for ways of starting off with a good introduction so wanted to give an example of storytelling by people who could not write or read (as Shahidul Alam states) telling their stories. I believe, like Alam that everyone should be given the opportunity to tell their stories even if they can’t write or read. My example was epic poet Homer, speculated to be blind, wrote no works, but has created some of the best poetry the world has ever known. He was a storyteller primarily, that is how his works came about him. He had an oral tradition of telling them to groups of people. For example Milaman Parry “Identified the Iliad and the Odyssey as products of an oral tradition of hexameter poetry which had its origins long before the 7th cent.” I thought it was a good exaple, but there was too much speculation involved.


 

I looked into a lot more books, articles, videos, talks, interviews, essay etc. which are all in my bibliography. This was a quick round up of a few of them.

References: 

Sekula, A. (1978) ‘Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary (Notes on the Politics of       Representation)’ The Massachusetts Review Vol. 19, No. 4. Massachusetts: The          Massachusetts Review, Inc, 859-83

Hornblower, S. (2012) Spawforth, A. & E. Eidinow (eds.), ‘The Oxford Classical Dictionary 4th Ed’ Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 695-696

350MC – Research: Martha Rosler

Martha Rosler is a left-wing writer and artists who authored In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography. Which is written from a Marxist perspective asking why documentary photographers still want to photograph the Bowery (a skid row in New York), when it is no longer possible to justify photographing it either in terms of helping or exposing the occupants.  She states that documentary photography represents a liberal social conscience. In the USA, it was at its most important in the ‘ideological climate’ of state liberalism and reform movements in first half of the twentieth century. However, it had muckraking associations, and predated the “… myth of journalistic objectivity” (p. 306), which partly ‘strangled’ it. It can be argued that the Bowery photographs were a part of an “… aggressive insistence on the tangible reality of…” poverty and a reality forced into consideration just by being photographed (Rosler 1981: 306). In the Bowery the subjects are the docile victims of the photographer, unless the photographer shows up before they have been drinking in which case they are likely to be hostile, having no interest in being photographed. This is particularly the case now that “… the meaning of all such work, past and present has changed…” (Rosler  1981: 307). The New Deal’s fight against poverty has been given up and social concern has been replaced by political views that suggest the poor are poor because they deserve to be poor. The compassion and dedication to reform has given way to “… exoticism, tourism, voyeurism… trophy hunting-and careerism” (Rosler 1981: 307).

Rosler then introduces Diane Arbus stating that by selecting the right subject, Arbus allows the viewer to stare and to do so without feeling empathy. The victims are turned into freaks and the “… boringly sociological becomes exciting mythological/psychological” (Rosler 1981: 307).

Rosler argues that the believability of documentary photographyis divided by the left and right wing in politics. The left claim that documentary is a social foundation that attends to the rich. It legitimises and enforces the wealthy classes’ dominance over the poorer classes while pretending to be fair and universal, almost like a ‘smokescreen’. The validity of documentary is also debated by the right wing, which see social inequalities and the bourgeoisie as natural. The elite are able to appreciate photography and its beauty and truth, but also have the power to keep these photographs only available for themselves in galleries, the art market and museums, isolating everyone else. This, splits the understanding of images the privileged have from the common understanding. In consequence, these political disputes about photography have shifted majority attention to minor arguments, ignoring the content and political or ideological dimension of the images, distracting everyone from the real issues which may lie within the photographs.

The essay from what I understand is about the institutionalisation of documentary photography that has been taken to support the idea that ‘documentary is dead.’ However, Rosler believes, that documentary is alive, if of course, those who do it exercise responsibility in their decisions relating to the production, dissemination, and marketing of their images. Not that voluntarism is the answer, but that humans aren’t unenthusiastic creatures, either.

References:

Rosler, M. (1981) ‘In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography)’ Rosler 3 Works, Halifax, N.S.: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design 306-339

Rosler, M. (2004) ‘Decoys And Disruptions’ Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press in association with International Center of Photography, New York

350MC – Reseacrch: Abigail Solomon-Godeau

After reading Abigails Solomon-Godeau’s Inside/Out, I feel it strongly relates to my essay and almost acts as the glue which binds all of my previous research together. My essay is strongly based around the inside/outside position of the photographer which Abigail Solomon-Godeau speaks of.

Sussan Sontag is frequently mentioned near the start of Solomon-Godeau’s essay criticising Diane Arbus’ work. Martha Rosler, a left leaning author of the essay In, Around and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography) is also introduced too to discuss the inside/outside dilemma from different perspectives. However, Solomon-Godeau argues that Sontag’s criticism of the ‘touristic’ and irregular attitude behind Arbus’s work depends in part “… on the binary couple inside/outside” (Solomon-Godeau 1994: 49). This duality (Solomon-Godeau uses the word ‘binarism’) is a part of much photographic criticism dealing with ethics and politics. In Sontag’s example of Arbus’s work, the insider position is seen as being ‘good’ and the isolated, uninvolved outsider position ‘bad’. Solomon-Godeau sees Sontag  dealing with the ethics of photography and Rosler, dealing with the politics of photography (power and powerlessness etc). Rosler calls outsider photography ‘victim photography’ and sees one alternative to it as self-representation, which would give power to the ‘victims’. However, from both Sontag’s and Rosler’s perspectives, the documentary photographer, the tourist etc. commits an act of violence against the subject, taking something from them, while only seeing a partial and probably distorted view of the subject.

She then introduces Nan Goldin as an insider, whose ‘confessional’ (the ‘confessional mode’ is what Solomon-Godeau refers to as the work produced by an insider) work is produced with a deep personal involvement in the subject matter. Solomon- Godeau sees this work’s subjectivity as descendent from art photography. Although the work of Goldin and Arbus raise some of the same issues, in that they all deal with the fringes of society, Arbus is clearly an outsider in relation to her subjects and Goldin an insider.

To end Solomon-Godeau’s work has given me a better sense of direction for my future research on this topic. I will do some further reading on Martha Rosler.

References:

Solomon-Godeau, A. (1994) ‘Inside/Out (Public Information: Desire, Disaster, Document, Exhibition)’ Catalog. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. New York: Art Publishers, 49-62

350MC – Research: Susan Sontag

I see Susan Sontag as a humanist who deals with the ethics of photography, in terms of empathy, involvement etc. in her 1977 publication On Photography. Sontag is critical of photography’s colonisation of the world and that there are certain approaches to photography, in particular, that objectified people. These approaches prevented the viewer of having empathy with the subject and Diane Arbus’s work was typical of this. Arbus photographed deviants (social, physical and those that looked deviant) in a way that prevented compassionate involvement. As a result, Sontag sees her as a morbid voyeur.

Sontag feels that for Arbus the camera removes “… moral boundaries and social inhibitions, freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward the people photographed” (Sontag 1977: 41). She feels the point of photography is to visit people, not to interfere in their lives, to be a “… supertourist” (Sontag 1977: 42), colonising new experiences in a fight against boredom. Like fascination, boredom depends ‘. . . on being outside rather than inside a situation . . .’ (Sontag 1977: 42).

In her later publication regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag discusses decontextualisation and how it is unethical by stating that matching images of children slaughtered in rural bombardments were handed around during Croatian and Serbian propaganda meetings in the period of the Balkan wars (Sontag 2003: 9). I believe this relates to research I had undertaken previously with Shahidul Alam and Dalia Khamissy in which they discuss decontextualisation as a result of visiting photographers.

References:

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On Photography’ New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 41-42

Sontag, S. (2003) ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ London: Penguin Books: Hamish Hamilton 9

A Soul-Scarring Event – Unphotographable Phiction/Spoken Narrative Mash-up

A SOUL-SCARRING EVENT

A Soul-Scarring Event


CONTENTS

CHAPTER 1 GHOSTFACE

CHAPTER 2 ALONE

CHAPTER 3 BURST

CHAPTER 4 WHITE FLESH

CHAPTER 5 DARKNESS LIT BY FAIRY LIGHTS

CHAPTER 6 PETROL PUMP

CHAPTER 7 FALSE HOPE

CHAPTER 8 HELL

CHAPTER 9 RED SHIRT

CHAPTER 10 PORTRAIT OF A HERO

CHAPTER 11 NIGHTMARES

CHAPTER 12 LOST TIME

CHAPTER 13 MORNING LIGHT

CHAPTER 14 SECOND HELL

CHAPTER 15 SILVER TONGUE

CHAPTER 16 FRIENDS: OLD AND NEW

CHAPTER 17 SCARS

CHAPTER 18 DISTRESSED RELIEF

CHAPTER 19 REMNANTS

CHAPTER 20 GRATITUDE

AFTERWORD


CHAPTER 1 GHOSTFACE

In August, 2014 I travelled around Southeast Asia with 6 friends: Max, Sean, Charlie, Emyr, Warwick and Harry.

When visiting the island of Koh Lanta in Thailand we decided to rent out bikes to travel across the island. Wanting the cheaper option, we found the cheapest option, in a  small shack with the bikes lined up outside available to rent. Our deposit was only our friend’s passport.

We had previous experience on bikes before and  knew how to drive them, and soon began driving foolishly. We would race each across the desert planes of the island, along empty streets by the coast of the island.

It was late, past midnight, as the six of us were racing on this empty road. Driving up, from the corner of my eye I spotted a bike in the shadows on the side of the road. I had to double take before realising it was Harry, who had stopped on the side with the lights off, just sat there.

Charlie, Max and Warwick had driven further down the coast for a night drive, some last minute exploration of the island as it was our last night there, the following morning we had a minibus coming to pick us up to take us to the airport, where we would then go to our next destination. This left Sean, Emyr and I, who went over to Harry.

Harry’s face was pale, looking like he had seen a ghost. After asking what was wrong, he replied, “We’ve been having too much fun, man… There’s always a price to pay.” Following this comment he declared that he was going back to the hostel before something happened. His words must have resonated with Sean and Emyr as they decided to join him in returning to the hostel.

The three of them looked to me for my choice:  “No I’ll stay, I’ll go catch up with the others. I’ll see you guys back at the hostel.” They encouraged me to return with them, ”Don’t be an idiot the nights over, we’ve got a flight to catch tomorrow morning.” But I had not been convinced, I insisted on staying, “I want to stay out longer, this is the last night we get with these bikes.”

Although clearly dissatisfied with my decision the three of them left, “We won’t force you.”

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: With dark foliage behind and surrounding Harry, his face is the centre of the image, whilst sat on the parked bike. Captured is his expression of foreboding terror, with the darkness around him, exaggerating his pale face making it almost illuminate.


CHAPTER 2 ALONE

I went in the direction the others had gone in on my own, hoping I would catch up with Charlie, Max and Warwick, in the hopes that they had stuck to the main road. I drove as fast as the bike could go and after 10 minutes of driving I was starting to worry. It was dark, there were no streetlights anywhere, so only my bike lit the way. In that moment I realised I had broken one of the group rules,  we had promised each other we wouldn’t break away from the group individually. I could hear nothing except the wind, loud and ripping through my ears, tearing across my face. My eyes were starting to water from the wind blowing into my eyes. In this moment to myself I had a chance to question my judgement in choosing to stay.

After some time had passed, in the distance I spot a red light, and then another. I begin to notice that the lights are moving. My eyes open with hope, now seeing three red lights, and internally I’m imploring to the controller of my fate to let those be my friends.

As I get closer, I am able to recognise Charlie at the back, with Warwick and Max leading the way. With a rush of relief flooding my body, I beeped repeatedly to catch their attention.

“Oh shit it’s Brian!”

I felt safe, calmer, relaxed.

We drove, through the island coast. It was so beautiful. The moonlight bounced off the sea water, illuminating everything to my right, on the left the light grew dim, the foliage dark and deep green. I felt wonderful, rolling with the wind. I felt so free, with adrenaline pumping through my body, giving me a sense of invincibility. There were no concerns about breaking any laws or disrupting other people, unshackled from the usual restraints.

At 2am we decided it was time to head home and the gentle speed along the coast was accelerated, I pushed the bike towards its maximum speed. I was going fast, but it still felt relaxing, it felt as if I was drifting through their air, almost flying-

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: A bird’s eye view of myself on the bike, the road running central to the image, the dark jungle to the left with patches of darkness that seem to eat up the light. And to the right the sea, moody and dark, but with flecks of moonlight reflected off the surface. A small beacon of light in front of the bike can also be seen.


 CHAPTER 3 BURST

A bang pierces the night sounds as my front tyre bursts, the bike instantaneously out of my control. I blink, I’m on the floor, I have no idea what is happening, I blink again, still with no idea of what is going on. All I know is my body,  which I feel turning, rolling, flipping and sliding across the floor at a speed I cannot keep up with.

At one point I realise I’ve crashed, and my brain kicks into gear- if I don’t do something soon to stop myself, something else could stop me with a damning effect. I sacrifice my right hand, slamming it into the ground and grip the floor as hard as I can. I could feel no pain as my fingertips and palm were dragged  across the dirt rocks. .

Eventually I stopped. I picked myself up from a lying position to get out of the road- aware of the danger of other vehicles; I noted that I was half a meter away from hitting the curb, with a tree right beside it. How close was I to hitting that curb? Or that tree? I sat myself on the curb as I watched  my friends rocketing past me, too fast to stop.

They turned back to come for me,  running as fast as they could. Luckily we were  back into town and not alone on the empty roads in the jungle area.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: An image taken from a considerable distance, and in the darkness a lot of detail cannot be seen. From what is dimly lit, one can see the bike and my body lying on the ground with an eerie sense of the action being stood still, almost as if staged.


CHAPTER 4 WHITE FLESH

My friends later told me a local who was shutting up his restaurant saw me crash,  and came running towards me concerned. He said he couldn’t believe I was alive, let alone managing to pick myself up to sit down. He believed I had skidded  50 meters across the floor. My friends couldn’t believe it. They saw sparks flying everywhere, with the bike spinning as much as I had, which was also as damaged as I was. Alongside the burst tyre, the engine wouldn’t turn on, a mirror had broken off and the general body was scratched and dented.

I sat there, unbelieving of what had happened. I was aware of the blood dripping down the right side of my numbed face, but felt no pain. Everything started to feel very slow. I would turn my head, only to feel it turn a second or two after. My vision was blurred and I struggled to talk, only mumbling. My hearing was distorted; I couldn’t understand anything my friends were telling me. I could just see the figures of  Charlie and Max. As I turned my gaze down I could see blood on the floor, and my right leg bleeding, bruised and cut up, but no pain.  I then consider my hand, I turn it to look at my palm. It was all red, with the skin of my palm resting on my wrist, open as a door into my hand. My fingertips looked like white flesh, blood pulsating out but I could not understand where the blood came from. Still no pain, yet now the sight of my hand  made me feel strange, not nauseous, but light headed.

Suddenly overcome, my eyes closed as I experienced the feeling of succumbing to unconsciousness.  It felt good, relaxing, it felt right and natural, and my body willed it.

The panicked shouting in the background was slowing drifting away, until a hand gripped the collar of my t-shirt snatching me back. I felt another hand grip on, It shocked me, my eyes shot open before I felt a slap on the left side of my face, which somehow was uninjured.

“DON’T SLEEP,”

“DON’T SLEEP BRIAN.”

My friends were worried. They didn’t know where any of the hospitals or clinics were, or whether the island had any at 2 in the morning.

A man on a tuk-tuk drives by and stops with curiosity. The other local, the restaurant owner, was still there, worried and concerned. I could hear his voice, I could hear all their voices I just couldn’t understand. The locals spoke amongst themselves, the tuk-tuk driver states that he would take me to the hospital for 1000 baht. We had no money.

My friends don’t know what to do, and though desperate, simply have no money. The restaurant owner offers to pay, to which my friends remorsefully, unproud to be taking so much money from a stranger, a steep price for our foolishness. The man was a hero.

Max and Charlie lift me to bring me onto the tuk-tuk, I couldn’t walk, only able to move my left leg. Max sat by my side, Warwick, still in shock and disbelief, said he would stay at the crash site to look after the bikes while Charlie would go to the hostel to get the others.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: An image filled with deep dark colours of black, brown and blood as my hand is held, palm upward showing the stark contrast of what appears to be white flesh. An image that could be seen as only appropriate for the morbidly curious, highlights the oddness of the fact that something within us, has such an alien appearance.


CHAPTER 5 DARKNESS LIT BY FAIRY LIGHTS

The journey wasn’t pleasant. I was on a motorbike with a rickety passenger attachment to it, which was not built for comfort. We were on the bike for about an hour in total. Instead of going to the hospital, the driver went to a clinic as it was nearest, but it was closed. We detoured from the hospital once again to go to another nearby clinic, however that one was closed as well. After this he decided to go to the hospital. We travelled through desolated areas, nowhere near the town we were in, travelling along uneven dirt roads and potholes.

I can recall being on a dirt road at this point going through jungle. Taking in the moment, it was almost pitch black, the only lights came from the bike, the white headlights on the road ahead, and the tacky multi coloured lights decorating the tuk-tuk.

The blood was now only from my leg and hand. I could also feel my senses coming back to me, my hearing not as distorted as before. I could understand what the sounds I was hearing were. I kept mumbling, asking max when we’d get there, Max, as clueless as I was, comfortingly replied, “Soon.” I would drift off, unable to keep my eyes open, and every so often Max would shake me, and keep me awake.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: Though darkness lies around the edges of the image, alongside the jungle greens, centrally the tuk-tuk’s fairy lights bring not only light, but some colour to our faces, Max, the driver and me. The purples and pinks glow dully and the light reflects off our skin.


CHAPTER 6 PETROL PUMP

I started feeling cold at this point, wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. Even my flip flops had gone- left somewhere back on that stretch of road. I began shivering violently, once again my body  just wanted to sleep. I was cold, tired, dizzy and numb. Max had his arm around me rubbing my arms and chest doing all he could to keep me warm.

Max kept reassuring me we’d almost be there, “We’re almost there. We’re almost there.” And whilst he tried to keep my spirits up, I could feel myself getting weaker. It became increasingly harder to stay awake or pay attention to anything. Once again, as I drifted between sleeping and consciousness, my hearing faltered as Max’s voice  merged with all the other noises in the background. Max realised my eyes were shut with no response and he vigorously shook me, “Wake up Brian!”

I did. My eyes opened and although  I could not focus on Max’s face, right in front of mine I thought to myself, “I was so close,” before thinking of what a true friend Max was.

The bike stops.

“Have we arrived?” I murmur. “No,” replied Max  “The driver stopped to get petrol.”

I look around,  still in the middle of nowhere there was a petrol pump on the side of the road. It felt like it took ages to fill up the tank, but the break from all the loud noise the engine was making was pleasant. I could hear humming, wailing and other animal noises in the distance coming from deep within the jungle around me. The driver, being as quick as he could paid and hopped onto his seat. He asked max pointing at me, “OK?”, “Ok” said max, “He is doing fine. Please hurry.” And so, the driver switches the bike on.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: A tinged yellow light emanates from a sole petrol pump, sat within the jungle surroundings, with a sense of faded calmness and gentleness regardless of the artificial light it gives off.


CHAPTER 7 FALSE HOPE

The bike stops a second time.

This time it’s bright around. We’re at the hospital. A man reaches into the tuk-tuk taking hold of me helping me out, Max assisting. I get sat on a wheelchair and am wheeled into hospital. The driver says he’ll wait outside.

Finally inside, there were no doctors, as they had gone home. There were three nurses in the entire hospital.

I was put on a bed; I felt panic as I saw unusual instruments being brought out. One nurse was on the computer, with the two others around me ready to patch me up and max behind me. With a gentle start the nurses cleaned up all the dry blood around the wounds. Then one of the nurses got a thin set of scissors out grabbed my hand reached for a finger, lifted up the hanging bits of flesh and skin and began to cut.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: A shot of the hospital building, looking up towards it, giving it height and importance. The light is stronger in this image and of a white, clinical colour. The building looks imposing, even though its architecture does not indicate that.


 CHAPTER 8 HELL

A sudden burst of excruciating pain shoots through my entire body. I scream hard. Max holds my arms down tight as he stands over my head. He asks the nurses, “No anaesthetic? Painkiller?” The nurses couldn’t give any as there were no doctors to approve. Max, frustrated, looks down at me saying, “Brian, there’s no other way. We have to get through this. I’m sorry man.”

Tears uncontrollably ran down the sides of my face. The nurse took my next finger and proceeded to cut. I scream, fighting to lift my arms up, whilst Max held them down. I begged them to stop. They went from finger to finger to finger, cutting, cleaning, cutting and cleaning ignoring my pleas.

Once the dead skin was off my hand and fingers, they picked up a long set of tweezers. Swiftly they dug it into my finger picking out all the debris and dirt. I screamed I kicked my legs everywhere. Occasionally I managed to break free from Max’s grip and pull my hand away from the nurses. In a quick moment I would look at my hand, feel light-headed, fall to the bed and Max would regain control and grab me again, and the nurses would proceed.

It felt like torture, I couldn’t control my screams. I started feeling a horrible pain in my chest, as if someone had their hand in there, squeezing my heart, again and again. I’ve never felt a pain like it, the pain was no longer in the parts of the body the nurses were working on, it was in my chest.

Suddenly Charlie and Warwick come through the door with a frantic expression on their faces. I couldn’t believe it. I felt so happy, so grateful, that my friends came for me.  I couldn’t understand how they found the hospital, when the tuk-tuk driver, a local, struggled to find the hospital. Charlie raised his hands, holding my flip flops with a smile on his face.  I started tearing up with appreciation, not for the flip flops, but for the fact that they went out of their way to find this hospital, to keep me company, and I realised then what loyal friends they are.

I couldn’t believe they came for me. Anyone else might have just cleared up the crash site and gone back to the hostel to sleep. I asked about the others. Charlie said they were at the crash site slowly cleaning up and taking the bike back to the shop we rented them from. At this point I had forgotten about the pain in my chest, a warm, fuzzy feeling was fighting against it, a moment of relief.  Max motioned to Charlie to hold my legs down and he comes over and presses against my legs.

The nurse moved from my fingers to my palm. I screamed again, the pain in my chest back, the fuzzy feeling wasn’t enough. She kept going, and I kept shouting for her to stop. Charlie struggled to hold both my legs down, so Warwick helped. The pain at this point had gone to a different level, I could barely breathe, or talk- I couldn’t shout anymore. All I could do was stare at the blinding lights on the ceiling above me. I felt like a zombie, numb, I managed to mumble out, “My heart, my heart is hurting.”

Eventually my hand was cleaned, after being cut, picked and disinfected. It was finally bandaged up. There was no more pain in my hand, but a weird pulsating feeling. They moved to my leg when the pain began again, and though it was milder, there were still remnants of the pain in my chest.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: An image of my pain when looking up to the ceiling, the shot looking down on me, and those stood around me with the clinical white lighting in the hospital.


CHAPTER 9 RED SHIRT

There was not just one big wound, but small cuts and deep abrasions all over, they went from finger to finger, toe to toe. Eventually, just when I thought it was finally over, the nurses noticed my red t-shirt was  wet with blood.

Under my t-shirt there were more wounds on my ribs, hips and shoulders, which were patched up and again just when I thought it was over they find more grazes and cuts under my shorts across my thighs.

I just kept hoping for it to finish, which eventually occurred. I was free from the torture. Most of my body was bandaged and patched up including my face. I could feel dry tears on my face, but once again, there was no more pain, but, instead, numbness. As max and Warwick spoke  to one of the nurses about the cost, Charlie was sitting there trying to fix the thong of my flip flops, which had gotten loose.

I got wheeled out of the hospital and back onto the tuk-tuk, we were all so grateful towards the driver who had waited for over two hours. As I was being helped onto the tuk-tuk I see another person, being rushed in to hospital. He had blood all over his body, like me he’d had an accident on the road. I felt sorry for him because I knew what he was about to go through. Once on the tuk-tuk, Charlie puts my flip flops onto my feet delicately, the action of  a true friend.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: Photographs of the garments I wore on that night. Somehow I have been able to keep those items, and these are three images I have had the opportunity to take:

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CHAPTER 10 PORTRAIT OF A HERO

On the journey back I could see Charlie and Warwick on their bikes following us as the tuk-tuk driver led the way. I ask the driver to go back to the crash site, even though it would be a detour, I thought that there might still be a chance of seeing the restaurant owner, my lifesaver. I just wanted to say thank you show him my appreciation. I had no idea what he sounded like or what he looked like, what his name was, nothing,  all my senses were so distorted at that point.

This man had given away 1000 baht to a stranger. 1000 baht is equivalent to about 20 pounds sterling, which is a lot to a local there.

A big meal at a restaurant on that island would cost us about 50-150 baht including drinks and sometimes even a starter and desert which would normally be fresh fruit, with prices hiked up for us tourists. We could buy a whole bag of fresh vegetables for about 25 baht from the shops.

1000 baht was a considerable amount of money, I felt guilty taking that from him. I had to see him even if there was a very low possibility of him still being there. I wanted to at least see his face.

We got to my crash site, but he wasn’t there. I was devastated. The driver decided to then drive us back onto course towards the hostel where Max and Charlie helped me into the room. The lights were on; Sean, Emyr, and Harry were sitting on their beds talking to each other and saw me, their faces stunned, lost for words.

They helped me into bed. The lights went out and I lay there, crying, thinking about what had just happened, my entire body in pain.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: I do not know the name, nor the face of my hero. This is one image I truly wish I had- a simple portrait of this man. In fact I do not care much for the composition or styling for this image. I just wish I knew his face.


CHAPTER 11 NIGHTMARES

I had three nightmares that night, traumatised, not because of the accident, but because of my experience at that hospital.  I’d wake up with a shock or a jump, which would then send jolts of pain rushing through my body, breaking open the dried cuts from my sudden movements. I could feel fluids flowing through my bandages. Tears would roll down my face and I would fall asleep again only to be woken up by another nightmare and more pain.

After I woke for the third time I could see the daylight through the rickety blinds, I lay there silently, thinking about everything that had happened and what was going to happen. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I hated myself for what I had done; I felt guilty. Tears would still roll down my eyes, I couldn’t control them, they were just always there and wouldn’t stop.

 I thought that something like an injury to me would only affect me, and never once thought about how it would affect those around me.

I had taken the restaurant owners money.

I was now a burden to my friends.

I thought about how I would tell my loved ones back home, I would just make them worry.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: In a dark room, with light seeping through the blinds, the image shows a profile of my body lying on the bottom bunk, sweating and jolting from the fears in my sleep.


CHAPTER 12 LOST TIME

When I crashed I was wearing a watch my sister, who I hadn’t seen in 5 years, given to me for my birthday just before I was leaving for Southeast Asia. It was quite elaborate, and I could tell she’d happily spent quite a bit on this special gift seeing as she hadn’t seen me for so long. The watch was destroyed when I crashed. I felt terrible when I realised. I was asking my friends worryingly about my watch and where it was when I realised I didn’t have it on my wrist. Its material value wasn’t important, there are plenty out there, but none that were given to me by my sister…

I even dreamt that I had found it in my dream,  in one of my rucksack’s pockets. I remember being overjoyed, so happy, when I woke up I started looking for my watch because I was sure I’d found it. I started looking under my pillow, my wounds breaking open as I was hastily looking for it, I didn’t mind, I wanted to find it again so badly. Then I realised it was just a dream.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: A plain white background, and my wrist across the image, with the watch in its original condition on my wrist. My hand holds my sister’s.


 CHAPTER 13 MORNING LIGHT

Eventually it was time to get up, Charlie saw me lying awake and looks at me saying, “Don’t worry buddy, everything will be okay.” He continues, “Stay here, keep resting. We’ll sort out the bike for you.” He left with Sean, and after a short while they came back, saying it was done, sorted. I didn’t reply, my eyes were wide open staring into nothing, as I thought about how I’ve caused all this trouble for everyone.

“The minibus is here,” says Harry. Charlie gets me into a sitting position on the bed, and puts my flips flops on my feet; he then packs my belongings into my rucksack without prompting. He takes his and my rucksack and carries them out. Max helps me out and onto the minibus. I wasn’t asking for their help, they would just do these things for me. I was grateful as I leave the hostel, into the morning light and onto the minibus to leave behind the island.

On arrival at the airport Sean brings a wheelchair for me to sit on. My friends would amuse themselves by wheeling me around making zooming noises, giving me wheelies and bouncing it around as if it had hydraulics, when I’d ask if they could put me down they would pretend they couldn’t hear me.

I realised how hard it was being in a wheelchair, I only realised that morning that I had pulled a muscle in my left hand, giving me a shooting pain up arm. Whenever I would try to hold something, like a pen, it would feel so heavy, I could barely lift it. My right hand was in bandages, I couldn’t touch anything or else it would cause immense pain. I couldn’t even wheel myself around.

It wasn’t enjoyable having to rely on others to move me. My friends would jokingly wheel me towards a wall and leave me facing it. I wasn’t able to do anything about it, so I would just be sat there, facing a wall. After my friends would be done laughing they would bring me back to them. I needed to have friends then, who could bring light and humour to a bad situation.

After travelling for almost the whole day we arrived in Penang, Malaysia, but as a silver lining the wheelchair meant that the flight staff upgraded our seats, sitting us at the front, and we got to skip the queues at passport control. Warwick jokingly says, “Well at least you being in that state also has its perks, ey?”

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: An image, looking out from the minibus in front of the hostel, shows me being helped to get onto the bus, surrounded by my friends in high spirits, with their faces of joy contrasting my tired face. Though shading of the minibus darkens the photo, it is considerably lighter than the previous photographs, and the light feels lighter and more natural.


CHAPTER 14 SECOND HELL

We got into Penang and the first thing my friends wanted to do was to take me to a clinic or hospital and get my bandages changed. There was blood and pus seeping through after the long journey we’d just had. Sean’s uncle, who lived in Penang drove us to a private clinic where the doctor started to remove my bandages, resuming the horror story.

The doctor started with the bandage on my right leg. The pain was just as bad as the night before, if not worse. The nurses in Thailand had tried to patch me up as quickly as they could; the doctor said that they had done a terrible job. They had put tape directly onto the wounds and hadn’t cleaned them properly. He was concerned about infection, but after pulling off half of the bandage he said, “I cannot do anymore, you have to go to a hospital where they can give you anaesthetic or strong painkillers.”

We went back to the van with my wound now bleeding again, exposed with half the bandage hanging off. We go to a different clinic, only for them to say the same thing, reminding me of the similarly poor luck we had when visiting the clinics in Thailand. But with poorer fortune than before, we finally arrive at a hospital to be sent away again. We finally went to a private hospital supposedly the best in Penang according to the driver.

Straight away I saw a clear improvement in its maintenance and organisation. They put me on a bed in my own room, where I was seen by three nurses and a doctor, who said, “There is no time to do anything right now, your wound has been left exposed for too long.” He gave me some strong painkillers, and then told me to, “Be a man.” At this point I knew something bad was about to happen.

He told the nurses to remove the bandages as quickly as possible, if done slowly it would be more painful. Each nurse took hold of a different bandage on my body. I was panicking.

“1,” My heart began pumping, my body tensing in preparation, “2,” I began shaking and sweating, “3!” They tore off the bandages on my palm, leg and foot. I’d never shouted so loudly. Max and Charlie, who were in the room, had looks on their faces that empathised with my pain.

Tears started rolling down my face again. “Well done Brian” said the doctor “We’re going to clean you up nicely now and make sure you don’t get an infection.”

I felt as if I was being tortured again as the nurses began tending to my wounds, however they were more delicate, and I did not need to be held down. Still, as they moved from finger to finger, that horrible pain in the centre of my chest reignited.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: The moment in which the nurses tear off the bandages. The photo draws similarities to the image of ‘Hell’, but with less people so close to me, and my face, whilst still shows distress, is gentler. The lighting again, is clinical and white, but brighter than before.


 CHAPTER 15 SILVER TONGUE

As if sensing my pain, the doctor spoke to me, with words that filled my soul, “There will always be pain in your life Brian. It is inevitable.”

“However, suffering is optional and it is all up to you and only you whether or not you choose to suffer.” I considered that perhaps this pain, whilst caused physically, was being amplified mentally from the trauma of the night before.

With the doctor’s guidance I started to control my breathing: in and out, slowly and gently.

The pain eased up, and I could look at the open wounds on my fingertips which gently bled, I could observe the nurses touching my wounds. It didn’t make me light headed anymore, I wasn’t panicking. I could feel my heart calming down, the tight pain releasing itself. As I stared, my curiosity grew, I lay there silently, watching them get on with it.

I looked to the doctor, astounded by the strength and power of his words, and communication. Eventually it was done, they had used special bandages that wouldn’t stick to the wound, to make changing bandages easier and less painful.

I asked how long it would be for me to be able to start walking again and get off the wheelchair, he said, “At least two weeks.” To which I replied with my growing confidence, “That’s not going to happen, I’m not spending two weeks on a wheelchair.”

“That’s the spirit.”

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: Another portrait, of the man who could inspire so much, with so few words. A large grin would be on his face attracting attention to one of his best features.


 CHAPTER 16 FRIENDS: OLD AND NEW

We spent 4 days in Penang and I never left the hostel. I didn’t get to see the city, which I had been looking forward to seeing. Yet the company I had made it the best days of the journey. Having my friends with me made it easy, at 8 o’clock every morning they would come to my bed to take me to the clinic and have my bandages changed. They would find me awake in my bed, unable to sleep from the physical and mental pain, sometimes with tears in my eyes. I would try to keep in mind what the doctor told, but it wasn’t easy to forget about it all so quickly.

For the first two days my friends would try to help dress me to go out for the day, but I would tell them I wouldn’t be joining them. I needed to rest and recover. They didn’t want to leave me, but I insisted and begged them to just go. As they left they spoke to one of the workers there, who was a remarkable person, telling him if he could keep an eye on me. Going above and beyond, he gave me fresh fruit, bottles of juice and water, whilst saying with a smile on his face, “On the house.” I was so grateful, thanking him again and again, to which he would reply, “I’m not a worker, I’m your friend!” Every time he gave me something he would say, “I’m your friend!” always with a smile.

On the third morning when my friends came to wake me to get my bandages changed, I was asleep for the first time since the crash, so they left me to sleep. I woke up feeling the best I had in days. There was no one in the room that usually slept 7, so I pushed myself. I forced my body out of my bed and onto the wheelchair. It was painful, but I knew that I was only going to heal quicker if I began to do things on my own. I wheeled myself out the room using my one good leg. I slowly rolled down the corridor into the common area where my friends were sat there watching TV, eating or reading. Sean looks up, sees me and shouts, “Brian!” running over to wheel me to the dining table. Max gave me a few sandwiches and Sean gave me some cereal. Then max starts feeding me, as he had been the past few days, but I told him I could manage. I still had pain in my left hand from the pulled muscle and my jaw was sore, but the pain was bearable now.

The people I met in the hostel were amazing. Strangers would ask if I needed anything, and even though I asked for nothing, they would still bring food from their days out. Some even spent the day keeping me company. One girl asked me if I needed anything, and in that moment I was drugged up from the medication the doctor had given me, I slurred, “Vitamin A…” staring at the television. She laughed, but realised I meant it so she ran around asking people what had vitamin A. The local worker, my friend, told her where to go to get them. She returned with so much fresh fruit and a fresh banana milkshake, which she said helps make her feel better when she feels gloomy.

Some of the strangers became friends, who I still speak to now. They were from all over the world, from Chile, Singapore, India, Spain and France. I will forever be in their debt, they helped me unconditionally.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: A portrait of all those who helped me in my time of need, all those faces who, before, I could never assume would be so kind. An image to make you realise that kindness can come from anyone, anywhere.


CHAPTER 17 SCARS

On the 4th day I stopped taking the painkillers the moment the pain started to become bearable. I started walking without help, pushing myself as hard as I could. It wasn’t easy, I could only manage small distances, but I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair for 2 weeks. I was thinking as positively as I could and eating and drinking as well as I could too, I wanted my wounds to heal quickly. I never once felt sorry for myself, but I was slowly getting over the guilt inside of me with the help of reassurance from friends. I had gotten over my watch and was starting to think a lot more clearly.

I remembered that I hadn’t actually looked at myself since the crash, I hadn’t thought to till the day I had the bandages on my face removed. I was curious to see and managed to walk to the toilet by myself. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Wow, that is disgusting.” I couldn’t believe so many people had seen me like this.

My entire right cheek and chin was cut up and with abrasions, there was dry blood and pus all over it. There were so many different colours; black, brown, red, yellow, orange, all of them ugly and sickening. Before the accident I would have been terribly self-conscious, feeling embarrassed about being seen. But in that moment I didn’t mind too much.

I started becoming grateful for all the simple things: talking, breathing or walking. I had been told countless stories from the doctors of motorbike accidents involving their friends. One friend crashed and even though he had his helmet on, he hit a tree with his head and died instantly. Another was riding bikes in Bali, Indonesia, crashed and broke his jaw and now can never talk the same way again. All the apparently small and simple things like talking, simply aren’t small, they are our biggest gifts.

From Penang we went to Singapore and I could feel myself healing and getting better, there was almost no more pain from the bandage changes and the doctors were also noticing the improvement, instead of daily bandage changes, I only needed to go every other day.

By the 8th day I was walking again without difficulty, even carrying my own rucksack. The wounds on my face were almost gone, my friends were so surprised at how fast I was healing, calling me a mutant. I had finished my antibiotics too, which meant I could officially drink again. Seeing as we were in Singapore, a very pretty city, we thought that it would be a good opportunity for all of us to go out and celebrate.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: A self-portrait of when my injuries were the worst. Though the scars are a reminder of my lesson to learn from, scars can heal and I do not want to make that grave mistake again.


CHAPTER 18 DISTRESSED RELIEF

I had thought about telling my loved ones back home about what had happened to me, but I thought it wouldn’t be worth it. I would cause them unnecessary stress, and they would either spend a lot travelling to me or pay a lot to bring me home. I didn’t want that, and I didn’t want to let this injury spoil my trip.

I told them when I was walking comfortably again. I started with my girlfriend and then she went on to tell everyone. My mother sent me a message me asking about what had happened; I knew straight away she was worried. I tried to reassure her, but no matter what I would say, I knew she was going to worry.

I ended up going a few more places after Singapore and eventually my trip came to an end and I was on my flight back to London arriving at around 9 in the morning. I had told everyone to not bother picking me up from the airport, as I could easily make my own way.

My family saw me as I walked into my home at around 12 in the afternoon. My mother was preparing a nice big breakfast for my arrival.

My mother turned and saw me, she started tearing up and gave me a hug, my brother came over and gave me one too. It felt good to be back home.

I soon left to go to the hospital for a final bandage change and check-up.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: An image of my mother’s face, whose emotions displayed relief and joy in seeing I was safe, but also fear, concern and sympathy for the difficulties I went through. A reminder of how my actions can really hurt others.


CHAPTER 19 REMNANTS

When I got to hospital, they wanted me to have an X-ray seeing as I didn’t have one whilst I was out in Southeast Asia. They asked me where I had pain in my body, I said I had a bit on my right wrist, which I’d broken in the past, and on my left hand. I also said my neck had been feeling a little achy lately too, perhaps from whiplash due to my crash and the long flight. I said I didn’t think it was anything major, but they insisted on getting it X-rayed too just to be safe.

As I waited for the X-ray results a nurse changed my bandages. She was being so gentle it almost made me laugh. After what I had gone through this just felt like I was being tickled. I told her to not worry and to just do it quickly I assured her it wasn’t very painful. Once they were changed, I was told that the results of the X-ray weren’t good; the doctor told me that I had fractured my wrist and broken my neck.

He wanted to keep me in hospital for a couple of days and wanted more scans of my neck. He couldn’t believe that I wasn’t in excruciating pain, and couldn’t comprehend how I continued my trip after my incident with a broken neck and fractured wrist.

I asked him how bad it was, I had broken off one of the corners on the 6th vertebrae on of my neck, C6. He said I was lucky it was on the front end of the vertebrae because if it were anywhere else I probably wouldn’t be walking right now.

They put a temporary cast on my wrist and gave me a neck brace to wear, I explained to him that I’d been like this for over two weeks now and didn’t see the need for it. He felt he had to or else he wasn’t doing his job. He went to speak on the phone to a doctor who specialised in spinal issues and I overheard him say, “No, no, he literally walked into hospital. He had no idea.”

The doctor came back to me asking again to keep me in over the weekend. At this point I really wanted to get out of the hospital. I had spent enough time in hospitals already, I was sick of them. I wanted to see the rest of my family and friends.

I replied with a straight, “Nope.” He laughed, saying he would feel happier if I stayed. I told him how I felt about spending my first nights back, being in a hospital was the last thing I wanted to do. He said he couldn’t force me to stay, so he let me go and told me to come back if anything happened before booking me an appointment with the spinal specialist.

And on a final note, he lost his cheery disposition and became serious, telling me to be careful: it may not feel like I’ve broken my neck, but I have and that’s not something I want to have broken. If the other doctor felt the neck was in a bad way, it might need an operation.

I was eventually discharged after spending almost 9 hours in hospital. I said goodbye to the nurse who looked after me, leaving with my neck brace on and a bag full of bandage supplies.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: The image of the X-ray of my neck. Such a small chip off my vertebrae, seemingly insignificant, could have resulted in much worse. I fortunately have this image to serve as a reminder of how the human body, a system with many components can falter if one doesn’t take good care of the smaller aspects.

X-ray


CHAPTER 20 GRATITUDE

The next week came and I went to my appointment at the other hospital. The doctor told me I did indeed have a broken neck, but that he wouldn’t operate. He told me I was still young and that it should start healing itself. I was told to come back in 4 weeks in order to see my progress.

Four weeks passed, and I went back and received good news. After the doctor looked at the new X-rays and I did exercises to test my neck mobility, he said that it was healing well. I was overjoyed with the news.

Currently I am swimming as it helps the healing process. There is still a mild pain in my neck which is constantly there. In the morning my neck gets stiff and I have to do stretches to loosen it, but I am coping.

I feel as if this whole experience has changed me, I was a different person before I left for my travels. During my trip I felt like I had taken more medication than I ever have throughout my entire life put together, cried more tears than I’ve probably ever cried throughout my life put together.

Now I feel as if my eyes have been opened wider than I could have ever imagined. I was amazed at the power the human body has and how it recovers. The power your mind has on your body and how it affects it. How thinking rationally and positively isn’t just good for your mind, but for your entire body too. I sometimes think if I had just accepted the fact that I was going to be on that wheelchair for at least 2 weeks, then perhaps that’s how things would have turned out for me.

I also found true happiness in all the small things in life which I took for granted before.

After being wheeled around in my wheelchair, I realised how hard life must be for a person permanently on a wheelchair, especially around Southeast Asia. Every bump, gap or hole in the street would cause me pain- each one shaking my body and opening closed wounds. Navigation around a building became a lot harder, with as little as two steps resulting in a detour to a ramp, which at times was located on the other side of the building.

It was so frustrated, and I had the fortune to be capable of walking, albeit painfully, up the stairs. There are some without that fortune.

I started thinking about how every breath I took, every step I took, every word I spoke and how every face I saw was a gift.

And finally I found beauty in the people around me. I could barely conceive that a stranger would pay for me to go to a hospital, nor have friends to stick by my side when I was such a burden, and the deep pain I caused family stirred a deep ache within me as well.

All the people I had around me, the ones with me during my travels and the ones who would think of me back at home. They were my biggest gifts of all.

DESCRIPTION OF PHOTOGRAPH: Although this story was made for a different task, I thought that my Post-Photographic Portrait would fit well here. However, it is not yet defined. I desire to see a photograph of myself in the future; I want to see whether what I learnt was put into practise. Would I behave less irresponsibly, appreciate the consequences and so avoid the action? Would I have a kinder heart towards friends having difficult times as they did to me?

Would I perhaps be the hero, who doesn’t have to- but chooses to help?

This one I leave as a message to my future-self who’s response I await.


AFTERWORD

You have just read the tale of my experience over summer of this year. The memories still feel real and the images that come to mind when I write this still cut deep.

My own carelessness and false sense of invincibility led me to commit a terrible mistake, which at the time I almost appreciated that it could happen, and was not overly bothered about the havoc it caused in my life. I was unprepared for the troubles I would cause others, which threw me into a deep, deep pool of guilt and regret.

Now I accept what happened and choose to take the most from it. Principally it was a bitter lesson to learn. Perhaps if I share this with someone else, they may think twice. Though I believe many people with the mind-set I had previously would be closed off to learning from my mistakes.

Several of my images can be sorted into a set of Reminders, and serve as direct communication of what had occurred, the stark reality of it and they are reminders of the result of thoughtlessness. I implore to them through these images that your actions have consequences that you cannot control, and you cannot control who it affects.

Another essential element to the images is the People; I have included the portraits of those who help drive my emotional journey. I had gone travelling to discover new places, but have returned with stronger memories of the people.

One photograph I wish I had more than any of the others is that of my hero. His faceless presence will always be in the back of my mind, telling me that many miracles cannot happen without the generosity of someone.

And finally some of the images told the journey in a more physical sense. Never have I had to battle so much between consciousness, between the Light of life and the darkness of my potentially dying mind. From that I imagine that these photographs balance light in a similar manner to how I was in those moments, sometimes moments away from the clutches of unconsciousness whilst others glowing bright in strength.

On discussion of the overall piece, I chose to place the photograph description at the end of the chapter, so as to allow the reader to build their own image for that chapter and let them explore my tale.

I also was able to include some images that I was able to take, and have included these as a means to ground some of my words- whilst the reader can imagine how the photographs look, those shown serve as (optional) guidance to experience what I see.


IMAGE SETS:

Note that some images appear in several sets.

PEOPLE

GHOSTFACE

PORTRAIT OF A HERO

MORNING LIGHT

SILVER TONGUE

FRIENDS: OLD AND NEW

DISTRESSED RELIEF

LIGHT OF LIFE

GHOSTFACE

ALONE

BURST

WHITE FLESH

DARKNESS LIT BY FAIRY LIGHTS

PETROL PUMP

FALSE HOPE

HELL

NIGHTMARES

MORNING LIGHT

SECOND HELL

REMNANTS

REMINDERS

RED SHIRT

LOST TIME

SCARS

REMNANTS

GRATITUDE

350MC – Research: David Campbell

My tweeted notes from Storify:

https://storify.com/BrianMeta_/david-campbell-talk-phonar

David Campbell discusses how we interpret and narrate a culmination of people’s experiences through our own experiences. For example, if a group of people were to look at a photograph, experiencing the same event, they would all come away with different feelings and opinions. This relates to Roland Barthes’ concepts of studium and punctum which he talks about in his book Camera Lucida, which I spoke of in my post “Fred Ritchin on Bending The Frame”. Punctum is the effect something has on a person, piercing subconscious, touching their personal memories affecting every person differently due to everyone having different schemas.

He also discusses how photographs can influence situations, but are not capable of single handedly changing the world. People do give credit to photographs for change, however. For example, some people believe that the “Napalm Girl” photograph taken during the Vietnam War was what stopped it. So photography is definitely key in causing change, but needs narrative alongside it for greater impact. Although narrative is a term more commonly used in literature, Campbell explains that photography is another tool in storytelling with a visual narrative.

We cannot control how an audience interprets narrative, which I believe is a great thing because it leaves doors open for more thought and new ideas. We live in a non-linear world, now with the dawn of non-linear media, as Stephen Mayes Says, there is no longer a beginning, middle or end. So what do we do with all of this information? We feel as if we have to make sense of it all, so the way we do this is by forcing an event to become linear so that our hunger for understanding is satisfied. We make more sense of things when they are linear and the way we do this is by considering what we need to include and exclude. We may frame a photograph, but we also frame a lot out at the same time, it is not yet possible to be able to include everything.

However, this gives us great power when storytelling seeing as wrongly including and excluding information can change the whole of what you are narrating. We have a duty to create narrative as close to the truth as possible, without enforcing our personal opinions.

The addition of the internet has made it easier for these issues to be less like to happen, however. As Mayes states, the audience now has the power to correct the storyteller, comment on the story, share the story to their community and take action.

When documenting in the past, Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” But, Tod Papageorge counters Robert Capa’s famous quote by stating, “What is important now is that if your pictures aren’t good enough your not reading enough.” What Papageorge is saying here is that Context is vital as it allows us as photographers to understand how we want to narrate and document something by researching and exploring the topic before telling its story. Then once we come to that point is where we decide what to include/exclude.

This relates to what Fred Ritchin said on ‘Meta-photographers‘ which he described as, “Somebody who deals with all of the contextualisation of a situation.” He believes this is what sets photographers apart from amateur photographers.

All the topics discussed so far have been key to my understanding and development in photography. It has opened my mind and I feel more literate in visual communication due to understanding how to put myself in an environment I want to capture and make photographs and stories of in the future.

I have learned that context comes from experience in exploring research, If your photographs aren’t good enough, you aren’t reading enough. Furthrmore, I have learned that we make sense of events from looking backwards. I understood this when David Campbell was discussing narration and speaking of the French Revolution as an example. It also relates to the ‘rearview mirror’ theory, “We’re going at 90 mph, but looking at the rearview mirror” – Marshal Mcluhan. What he means by this is how we understand new media and refer to it using old media and technology. For example a virtual desktop inside a computer screen and a desktop your computer’s screen is actually sat on.

References:

Barthes, R. (1984) ’Camera Lucida’ London: Fontana

Internet Archive, (2013) Stephen Mayes On Tim Hetherington : Internet Archive [online] available from <https://archive.org/details/MayesOnHetherington640x480_201310&gt; [26 October 2014]

Papageorge, T. (2007) ‘Collapsing Images (Truth and Authenticity in Photography Part III)’  New York Public Library: Blind Spot

Ritchin, F. (1999) ‘In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography’ New York: Aperture

Ritchin, F. 2009 ‘After Photography’ New York: W.W. Norton

SoundCloud, (2010) David Campbell – Narrative, Power And Responsibility [online] available from <https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell&gt; [13 November 2014]