Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here [original]

This is the original version of the assignment as submitted to my tutor. The reworked final version for assessment is here.


About the work

The city of Nice has been my second home for the last 15 years or so and I was quite affected when the Bastille Day attack happened, and again when I have visited Nice since and seen the memorials still covering parts of the city.

At the time of writing this, three months on, the mood in the city is a delicate balance between grief, defiance and optimism; Nice is simultaneously attempting to rebuild its reputation as a tourist destination and honour the 86 victims of the atrocity.

I gave myself the fictional brief to produce a calendar for the Nice Côte d’Azur Tourism Board, in collaboration with the victims’ charity Promenade des Anges, with two objectives:

  • To help to restore Nice’s tourism reputation
    • By reminding people of how beautiful, friendly, welcoming and joyful Nice is
  • To honour, and raise funds in aid of the families of, the 86 victims
    •  By naming all of them in the images, in a discreet and respectful way

The result is a multi-layered ‘magic realist’ piece of work that first of all presents the viewer with traditional ‘picture postcard’ scenes, then reveals itself to be a respectful tribute to the victims. Each the scenes was also selected for its subtle connotations to the city’s response in the aftermath of the attack.

There is a loose narrative to the sequence that says: we’re mourning; we miss people; we wish we had our loved ones back; but we’re resilient; life is a journey; life goes on.

Submission

Full size images and a contact sheet are available separately. An A3 printed version has been sent to my tutor.

Please note that to get the full effect it is necessary to view the images as large as possible.

“Wish You Were Here”

First as standalone images (click the first image to start a full-screen slideshow):

Secondly in the calendar format as requested by the brief, with the addition of a cover page (click the cover image to start a slideshow):

Notes

With the exception of the touristic cover photo, the scenes were chosen to signify aspects of the city’s reaction to the attack:

  • Flowers: a metonymic device to connote funeral arrangements and therefore bereavement
  • Chairs: the couple of the left juxtaposed with the single woman on the right is to signify the loss of a spouse
  • Postcards: a linguistic association, bringing out the double meaning in the phrase ‘wish you were here’ – holidays/bereavement
  • Trees: metaphoric connotations of strength, resilience, defiance, survival (I also felt it important to include a picture of the promenade, the actual scene of the attack)
  • Boats: this is maybe the most tenuous/ambiguous of the associations but it’s intended to reflect the metaphor of sailing for life – an adventure, a journey etc (note: the fact that the boats are moored could be interpreted in a poignant way, as in the journeys are over for these people – this wasn’t my original intention but a potential reading that I realised after the event)
  • Bakery: the French buy fresh bread daily, bread is a metaphor for life, so this image is intended to connote ‘life goes on’

The name of each of the 86 victims is included once in the overall set, and groupings of friends and family who died together have been presented together in the same image.

Self-evaluation

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

This assignment was a test of my observational skills and visual awareness as I needed to first visualise and then find locations and vantage points that met my criteria: representative of Nice; contained relevant connotations; had appropriate space for approximately 15 names – which required careful design and compositional skills at both the shooting and processing stages.

In terms of materials and techniques, to achieve the desired effect of the embedded names required using Photoshop to a much greater degree than I had previously. I was pleased to see a comment from peer review that asked whether the names were already in place and I’d photographed them, which means that my Photoshop work must have been convincing. I explain my production process in a separate post.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the quality of the content and presentation as these closely matched the conceptualisation of my visualisations. I got comments from other students which reassured me that the communication of ideas and discernment of images worked effectively in what was quite a delicate balance to achieve:

  • “The subtle referencing is emotive, but without being maudlin”
  • “great concept and just subtle enough not to be overpowering”
  • “beautifully done, so evocative and respectful”
  • “a well judged project”

These are exactly the kind of responses I was going for.

Although this isn’t a corporate calendar as implied by the brief, I still wanted to show application of knowledge acquired during the advertising section. I wanted to include symbolism in the images that made them work at a connotative as well as a denotative level, as this is the essence of photographic advertising.

Demonstration of creativity

This is an area where I often judge myself as lacking, but I am more satisfied with this assignment than the previous three. I feel that the concept and execution show a greater degree of imagination and experimentation than my recent work.

In terms of my developing personal voice, I had a realisation recently that my own work is tending towards ‘expressive documentary’, or in John Grierson’s words, “the creative treatment of actuality”. I am attracted to subject matter that is rooted in reality, and often has a societal aspect to it. I feel that this assignment aligns with this evolving style.

I consider this a work of ‘magic realism’, to borrow a term from literature.

Context

This assignment gave me pause for reflection on what kind of photographer I want to be, and having wrestled with other ideas I alighted on this concept. The coursework and this assignment gave me further insight into the application of photography as a visual language, how one can embed intended messages in a visual format for the viewer to ‘read’.

Although as a highly personal project I tried not to directly and consciously base it on any previous work I had seen, I am aware that it exists in a context of related works, and that I have taken some indirect influence from some of them. This is summarised in a ‘context and inspirations‘ blog post.

In terms of critical thinking, I got the most useful foundations on advertising photography and semiotics from three particular books: Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders (1980), Williamson’s Decoding Advertisements (1978) and Hall’s This Means This, This Means That (2012).

I freely admit that I didn’t produce a ‘corporate calendar for a product’ in the way the brief suggests, but I believe that I have applied the underlying concepts of this genre of photography to an intangible cause rather than a corporate brand.

To me the end result works firstly as an art project to communicate an idea, and is still close enough to resembling a traditional calendar that people might actually want to put it on their wall.

Sources

Packard, V. (1980) The Hidden Persuaders (2nd end). Middlesex: Penguin.

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This, This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics (2nd edn). London: Laurence King.

Williamson, J. (1978) Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. New York: Marion Boyars.

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6 thoughts on “Assignment 4: Wish You Were Here [original]

  1. Jane 19 October 2016 / 16:09

    This is a very powerful assignment Rob – congratulations!
    The strong contrast between the sunny cheerful holiday images and the very poignant reminders of the tragedy that took place works at many levels. Kudos also the the care and time it must have taken to write all the names.
    The boats for me represented a life raft, something to keep us afloat, avoid sinking etc.
    Jane

    Like

    • Rob Townsend 19 October 2016 / 16:11

      Thank you – and thanks also for an extra allusion in the boats that hadn’t occurred to me…

      Like

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