For this assignment I created a short narrative of a fictional character, which deals with the subjects of insomnia and suicide. It covers tough subject matters and before proceeding I would like to say I have put some useful links at the end of the assignment should you be viewing this and are having those negative feelings, you are not alone and help is out there.
I must state I am fine. This is purely an exercise in using props to help tell an important story. Although I play the role of the character in the photographs, this is not me. I did question whether I was mature enough in my visual story telling skills/abilities to do this but you know what, you have an idea and you go with it.
I have used the suggested prop of a white shirt. To me the white shirt can mean a multitude of different things but in this instance I have reflected on it being a middle class corporate man in debt, trying to make ends meet and struggling, kept up at night by his thoughts, so tired he can’t sleep – I think someone who has struggled with insomnia would be able to relate to this.
A big influence for me for this exercise was the 1994 photograph by photographer Jeff Wall, called ‘Insomnia’. In The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton she refers to how:
“Insomnia is made with compositional devices similar to Renaissance painting, the angles and objects of a kitchen scene directing us through the picture and leading our understanding of the action and narrative. The layout of the interior acts as a set of clues to the events that could have led up to this moment; the man’s movements around the sparse kitchen in his restless state…”
I first discovered Jeff Wall’s photography when he was suggested to me by my previous tutor Robert Enoch. I have found a fondness in Jeff Wall’s photography, something I can relate to, which I have struggled to find in other contemporary photographers. I have viewed the photograph ‘Insomnia’ on multiple occasions and I am pulled back to view it again and again. I like the staged (or Tableau) photography that Jeff Wall creates in his work, the possibilities are limitless but I found simplicity is key. What is included or not included within the frame is of vital importance. I have attempted to limit distractions within the scene of the photographs I have created. The décor is intentionally quite drab and plain, the plain earthy colours.
In one of the photographs I have referenced a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson; ‘A man in debt is so far a slave.’ It’s a powerful quote and one I could see my ‘character’ seeking some kind of guidance from, unfortunately with drastic results.
I have experimented with viewpoint in regards to where I placed the camera; I played around with point of view a number of times; using third person and first person point of view. Some of the experimenting can be seen further in the contact sheets. All of the photographs were very carefully staged, also deciding what to include or not to include. I had to go back a couple of times and move things out of the frame, or adjust the frame. To get all of the shots I used a 2 sec timer release from my remote trigger on my Nikon D7200, with the camera set up on a tripod. It took a number of goes before I was happy with the shots. The final shot of the series was taken by me having the camera on the tripod set-up on the stairs, I triggered the camera then lifted myself using the banister at the top of the stairs to dangle my feet, and I wanted the sense of motion.
I showed the photographs to a couple of close friends and they got it straight away. The image of the chair at the top of the stairs seems to initially get people questioning ‘hmm what’s going on here?’ but the photos after it are self explanatory really. I am not sure if it’s really clear but that photograph in particular is the subject looking up at the chair, so we are looking through his eyes at that point in time. The bare feet when the character is on the chair was also really important to me, I think there is a natural innocence in the barefoot. I think you would take your shoes off when you stood on the chair, I can’t really explain it better than that.
I am pleased with the end result. It was a challenging assignment and has really pushed me out of my comfort zone and then beyond. This isn’t something I would normally photograph, so I feel I am really pushing personal boundaries, trying new things out that I wouldn’t have done before. I have taken a number of risks, both in storytelling and trying out different creative visual perspectives, I am experimenting with the technical aspects of photography.
I really love the idea of telling a story through a series of photographs, it’s something I really want to develop my skill-set in; I think it’s a vital part of visual language. I am learning that it’s true what they say, photography is not just about photographing nice/beautiful things all the time. I still love photographing beautiful subjects but I am learning to widen my view to encompass other feelings and emotions.
Some Useful links:
campaign against living miserably
TATE Jeff Wall Insomnia 1994
Charlotte Cotton, 2014. The Photograph as Contemporary Art (World of Art). 3 Edition. Thames & Hudson.Chapter 2 Once upon a time.
Susan Bright, 2011. Art Photography Now (Second Edition). 2 Edition. Thames & Hudson.pages 77-79.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Wikipedia