Assignment 2: Running on Empty

NOTE: this is the reworked version of this assignment for assessment, following feedback from my tutor. The revisions are predominantly in the visual treatment (background colour) and the introductory text.


About the work

In the UK 21% of the population lives in ‘relative poverty’, meaning total household income of less than £272 per week1. Some suffer greater hardships than others. One indicator of extreme poverty is ‘food poverty’ – the inability to consistently buy adequate and nutritious food for self and dependants. Based on food bank usage data it has been estimated that around 2 million people in the UK have experienced acute food poverty in the last year2.

These are the people stuck on the ground floor of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – expending all their energy narrowly focusing on the fundamentals of physiological survival. Since January 2016 I’ve been volunteering at a local food bank that provides emergency three-day food parcels to people in recognised need, allowing me an insight into the issue and its effects.

This project examines the psychological aspects of food poverty – the claustrophobic state of mind of someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from – by imagining a series of hallucinations of food. It combines the contents of a standard food parcel with a journey through a suburban landscape.

Submission

Prints have been sent to support the assessment submission.

Click on the first image to start a slideshow.

Running on Empty

Notes

  • Vertical letterbox format was chosen for the first nine images to accentuate the feeling of ‘tunnel vision’
    • I wanted to evoke the sensation of a narrowing of focus, of an inability to concern oneself with matters beyond the basics of survival
    • I experimented with including a defocused background to place the image in a context, albeit an unclear one – but abandoned this for the simplicity of the plain background
    • I reverted to a regular format for the final image to signify a resolution to the narrative
    • I changed the background from the original white to a more dramatic and foreboding black following a discussion with my tutor on potential rework ideas
  • Most of the first nine images were shot from a particular vantage point, with a diminishing perspective to imply the continuing journey
    • The final image was shot head on to imply reaching a destination
  • In some cases I tried to match the foodstuff to the location in some way, e.g.:
    • The instant mash was flat so lent itself to the car windscreen
    • The pasta sauce jar was in a slightly open door (‘ajar’)
    • The beans against a similarly coloured background
    • The fruit and fruit juice in a tree
    • The food bank image connoted a welcome with the component parts of a cup of tea and biscuits

Self-evaluation

Evaluating the outcome against the Assessment Criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I felt it important to use actual foodstuffs as materials rather than allude to hunger in a more abstract way, and using the actual contents of a three-day emergency food parcel grounded the subject matter in reality.

The primary design driver was the ‘tunnel vision’ concept and how I evoked it with the vertical letterbox format as explained above. I also used compositional techniques, largely around vantage point and perspective, to support my intent.

The main way in which I needed to demonstrate observation was the sourcing of locations (see notes above). In terms of visual awareness I was aiming for a jarring juxtaposition of real (colour, sharp street scenes) and surreal (the introduction of the foodstuff).

Quality of outcome

Once I decided on the basic concept (after much thought and experimentation), defining the content was a case of matching the props to the locations in a visually interesting way. The vertical letterbox format is the key aspect of the coherent presentation that helped me to communicate my idea.

This is by far the most pre-planned and pre-visualised assignment I’ve done, and certainly the one with the most overt conceptual intent. The knowledge from this section that made the most impression on me and therefore I applied were the artistic styles, notably surrealism. I’m confident that I’ve succeeded in communicating my intended idea, and have had peer review comments that reassured me that the execution has ‘worked’.

Demonstration of creativity

I believe I’ve demonstrated a certain amount of imagination in the core concept of the series, and within the overall conceptual framework I experimented throughout the planning and post-processing stages. I’m not claiming to have created the ‘object in unexpected place’ trope but I hope I’ve shown some inventiveness in the specific executions (matching props to locations etc).

There are a couple of aspects of this that are identifiable parts of my developing voice: firstly I like the challenge of depicting an internal state of mind, and secondly the broad subject area of social inequality (and associated volunteer services) is increasingly a preferred subject matter area for me.

Context

I’ve found this section and this assignment fascinating from a self-reflection point of view, in terms of using photography as art, from the point of view of an artist with an intent in mind – I used to have an aversion to describing myself as an aspiring artist but much less so after this assignment.

A couple of visual influences came from specific photographers in my research: Robin Maddock’s III for its use of everyday objects in surreal urban settings, and Berenice Abbot for her use of vertical letterbox format. The use of foodstuffs as props in projects about food poverty was partly inspired by the excellent Stefen Chow project The Poverty Line that Helen my tutor suggested I look at.

Though not on the reading list, one excellent book about art put me in the right ‘critical thinking‘ frame of mind about art photography throughout this section and this assignment: Hugh Moss’ The Art of Understanding Art (2015); I also found much of use in reliable set texts such as Bate (2009), Wells (2009) and Clarke (1997) – particularly around conceptual art.

In summary, I’m pleased with the way the assignment worked out despite being somewhat out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I’ve expanded my photographic horizons. The end result closely matched my pre-visualisations and I believe that my concept has been successfully communicated.


Sources

1 UK Government Briefing Paper No. 7096, 6 November 2015 “Poverty in the UK: Statistics”

2 In April 2016 the UK’s biggest food bank network, Trussell Trust, reported that its 424 centres provided emergency three-day food parcels to feed 1,109,309 people in the previous year. It’s estimated that Trussell Trust accounts for just under half of UK food banks. Whilst accurate data is difficult to calculate, a fair assumption is that doubling Trussell’s data might arrive at a realistic estimate.

UK Parliament: Poverty in the UK https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN07096/SN07096.pdf (accessed 11/04/2016)

Food Bank Usage https://www.trusselltrust.org/news-and-blog/latest-stats/ (accessed 28/04/2016)

Berenice Abbott http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/photographs/berenice-abbott-view-of-exchange-place-from-5420855-details.aspx (accessed 26/04/2016)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (accessed 14/04/2016)

The Poverty Line http://thepovertyline.net (accessed 14/04/2016)

Bate, D. (2009) Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph: A Visual and Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Moss, H. (2015) The Art of Understanding Art: A New Perspective. UK: Profile Books.

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

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