The Grey Area (between fact and fiction)
Photographer Jack Latham describes his practice as operating in the "grey area between fact and fiction". His photographs are part of a long tradition of documentary photography. However, he recognises that photographs might not be as reliable or trustworthy nowadays as they once appeared. Like other contemporary photographers who are interested in telling complex stories, Latham has chosen to operate in the space between fact and fiction, clarity and ambiguity, believability and doubt.
Some initial questions:
- What do we tend to mean by the phrase "a grey area" in everyday life?
- What is a useful definition of documentary photography?
- Why do photographs appear to be reliable forms of evidence?
- Why might photographs be unreliable?
- Why might contemporary photographers/artists be suspicious about the reliability of photographic images? Can you think of some examples of photographs that appear to be factual/truthful but, on closer inspection, prove to be unreliable in some way?
While the notion of a document is historically tied to ideas of certitude and confirmation and is primarily used in the legal realm, this certitude has all but vanished from contemporary consciousness. The experiences of the 20th century, its large-scale enterprises of propaganda and disinformation, have created an attitude, which could be called habitual distrust as well as advanced media literacy. Documentary modes still appeal to institutional modes of power/knowledge and cite their authority, but the effect is rather a perpetual doubt; a blurred and agitated documentary uncertainty..."
-- Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl, ‘The Greenroom: Reconsidering the documentary and contemporary art’.
- What reasons do these writers give for the current condition of "documentary uncertainty" in contemporary art?
- Research the work of Jack Latham, specifically his projects 'Sugar Paper Theories' and 'Parliament of Owls'. What kind of photographer is he? What themes/subjects interest him? How does he use both photographs and text to explore them?
- Find a quote either by or about Latham that helps to explain the nature of his work.
- Select one or two examples of his photographs and analyse them in detail (use the notes we made in class to help you). Think about the following:
- Describe what can you see in the picture?
- How do your eyes move across the photograph and where do they come to rest?
- Describe the light in the photograph?
- How does the photographer compose the different elements in the picture? Can you see any ways in which the information is arranged/organised? E.g. Rule of thirds, foreground/middleground/background etc.
- How did the image make you feel initially? Do you still feel the same way about it now?
- Explain which details in the photograph strike you as interesting/unusual/noteworthy?
Use the images below to help you explain your first response to Latham's work.
- What was the challenge? What kind of story did you try to tell?
- What decisions did you make when you chose your subjects and when you sequenced your pictures?
- What has worked well in your final sequence of images?
- What did you learn in the process?
- What would you do differently/better next time?
Developing & refining:
You have done more research about Jack Latham's work and had a go at creating your own sequence of images to tell a story. Now it's time to develop your ideas and refine your responses. Over the next few weeks you should attempt the following to the best of your ability:
- Create several sequences of photographs that tell complex stories.
- Document the whole process of making these images, recording the creative decisions you make E.g. choice of subjects, genres of photography, equipment and materials used, post-production decisions, selection and sequencing decisions etc.
- Research the work of the following photographers (who also appear to operate in the grey area between fact and fiction):
On Friday 11th October 2019 you should be prepared to exhibit your most successful sequence of photographs. These can be in the form of printed images, a slideshow or handmade photozine. You should also make sure all your evidence of research, developing and refining is available on your website (or in your book) for assessment.