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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Assignment 2: rework options

My Assignment 2 was on the subject of food poverty, more specifically its psychological effects. I used visual analogies of tunnel vision and hallucination to depict foodstuffs in odd places, with the intention of evoking the sense of intense focus on getting food and the inability to concentrate on anything else.

Original

Click first image for a slideshow.

Potential rework

One of the suggestions from my tutor was to try changing the background to black, to further enhance my stated intention of tunnel vision.

Click first image for a slideshow.

Next steps

I currently prefer the black background – more striking, especially printed large. But I’m not 100% sure. Half of the people I’ve currently showed it to still prefer the original.

Hmmm… I’ll come back to this.

EDIT

I’ve done print tests of two versions on black (with and without a thin top/bottom black border.

 

print-test

Currently preferring the one with top/bottom border. My rationale: for both the all-white one and the right-hand black one (where the image touches the top and bottom of the black blocks), the white feels like it is intruding on the image, when I want define the edges of the image as excluding the borders – I only want there to be a border for practical handling purposes (assessment good practice, I’ve been told by various sources).

The left-hand black one meets my criteria more; the white doesn’t intrude, and the black space + photo image is more self-contained.

Decision made:

print-test-crop

I’ve just checked and I’ve got three spare black ink cartridges :-)

Assignment 2: tutor feedback

I had another excellent Skype tutorial with my tutor Helen and had some really interesting discussions on the assignment and my practice in general. It was very positive yet at the same time challenged me a lot in terms of my clarity of intent and execution – which was very useful.

I will post the full report for submission time but below I summarise the key points I took from the feedback.

Assignment:

  • Online presentation perfectly fine
  • Print reproduction quite good but still need to watch for potential colour casts – need to just spend that bit of time experimenting with colour correction on the files pre-print and make tests to come to own judgement of best treatment/colour balance
  • Good logging of background preparation – thorough ideas development; exploring various strategies and conducting tests – but skipped a couple of key decision points which would have covered some the subtleties of final execution decisions
  • Articulation of key ideas not as immediately clear as they could have been:
    • e.g., if ‘tunnel vision’ aspect is important, consider versions on black rather than white b/g? more dramatic, dark
    • Need to weave into artist statement text better indicators of rationale for visual qualities, e.g. white b/g (emptiness vs darkness)
    • Choose words carefully to reinforce rather than complicate the key ideas
  • Alternative execution possibilities to try during rework:
    • Black b/g as noted above
    • Close-ups of products to minimise context
    • Full-size images i.e. lose the vertical letterbox crops

Coursework:

  • Generally good, especially the artistic styles exercise (although I really didn’t like it myself!)
  • Research: I still need to go deeper into visual analysis of images of photographers being researched
    • Tease out what is strong about quoted images and how/whether it can be incorporated into own work
    • e.g. what visual qualities do Maddock’s III images have that the assignment submission does / doesn’t? (b/w vs colour, minimal background, contrast, shadows etc) is this deliberate / justified?
    • Will help to develop ‘visual vocabulary’

My thoughts

I’m quite pleased about the feedback as this was another assignment way outside of my comfort zone. I do need to put more thought into articulating my intention clearly enough without spelling it out too literally – I will work on this.

I like Helen’s suggestion of making a couple of checklists that will hone my practice in certain areas and help me to build on ongoing feedback:

  • Assignment prep/compilation checklist: key messages, text, sequencing, checking back to original intent etc
  • Analysing images – own and other photographers: styles, visual characteristics and their effects etc

Assignment 2: Running on Empty [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

In the UK 13.2 million people, or 21% of the population, live in ‘relative poverty’, meaning household income less than 60% of national average (so less than £272 per week)1. Some suffer greater hardships than others.

One indicator of extreme poverty is ‘food poverty’ – the inability to consistently buy adequate and nutritious food. 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 year.2

These are the people stuck on level one of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – expending all their energy focusing on the absolute fundamentals of physiological survival.

This series uses a surreal treasure hunt metaphor to examine the psychological aspects of food poverty – the state of mind of someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. It combines the contents of a three-day emergency food parcel with a journey through a suburban landscape.

(the more detailed Statement of Intent is in a previous post)

Submission

Full size images and a contact sheet are available here.

Sample prints have been sent to the tutor.

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, of an emptiness beyond this single-mindedness
    • 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 white background
    • I reverted to a regular format for the final image to signify a resolution to the narrative
  • 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:

  • Materials: I felt it important to use actual foodstuffs as props 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
  • Techniques: I printed on regular photographic paper but with a deliberate use of negative space to form a vertical letterbox format as explained in the notes above
  • Observational skills: the main way in which I needed to demonstrate observation was the sourcing of locations (see notes above)
  • Visual awareness: I was aiming for a jarring juxtaposition of real (colour, sharp street scenes) and surreal (the introduction of the foodstuff)
  • Design and compositional skills: I used compositional techniques, largely around vantage point and perspective, to support my intent (as described in notes above); post-processing was a challenge; I had variations of colour / b&w, white / blurred background, text / no text – until I settled on the simplicity of colour images on white background and no text

Quality of outcome:

  • Content: once I decided on the basic concept (after much thought and experimentation) the content was a case of matching the props to the locations in a visually interesting way
  • Application of knowledge: of all the reading in this section I believe the elements that made the most impression on me were the artistic styles, notably surrealism – which I realised can be conceptual surrealism rather than melting clocks or mad Photoshoppery
  • Presentation in a coherent manner: the vertical letterbox format is a very important part of the presentation, as explained in notes above
  • Discernment: as planning and pre-visualisation played such a major role in this assignment there was not the usual challenge of selecting images from a long list; so unusually for me the selection decisions were made in advance and I only shot what I knew I would use
  • Conceptualisation of thoughts: this is by far the most pre-planned and pre-visualised assignment I’ve undertaken, and the one with the most overt conceptual intent
  • Communication of ideas: I think I’ve succeeded in getting over my intended message, and have had peer review comments that reassured me that the execution has ‘worked’ as intended to communicate the underlying concept

Demonstration of creativity:

  • Imagination: as noted, I believe I’ve demonstrated a certain amount of imagination in the core concept of the set i.e. the surreal introduction of packaged food into a suburban landscape
  • Experimentation: within the overall conceptual framework I experimented throughout the planning and post-processing stages
  • Invention: I’m not claiming to have invented the ‘object in unexpected place’ trope but I hope I’ve shown some inventiveness in the specific executions (matching props to locations etc)
  • Development of personal voice: this is an interesting one actually; one aspect of this is very much part of my developing voice – I like projects where I can depict an internal state of mind – but in another sense the planning and pre-visualisation is not my usual way or working (I’m usually more organic: think-shoot-refine-shoot-select etc)

Context:

  • Reflection: I’ve found this section and this assignment fascinating 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
  • Research: 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 (thanks to fellow student Carol Street for the pointer); 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
  • Critical thinking: though not on the reading list, one excellent book about art put me in the right 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.

Assignment 2: more processing

I spent half of yesterday processing the results of my morning shooting and put up a few alternative processing treatments for peer review, as I’m struggling to pin down the right aesthetic for this assignment.

Change of heart

I spent most of the day preferring the b&w versions, as did some of the students who commented on the Facebook group. However, a few students (step forward, Sarah-Jane Field, John Umney and Carol Street) made me stop and think a bit more. Between them they challenged my thinking and teased out some problematic aspects of some of my work-in-progress options.

My main original objection against colour, especially against the plain white background, was that it looked too much like advertising. However, a couple of people brought up the text overlay and it became apparent that this was also part of the resemblance to an advertising aesthetic. Also, the stats are meaningless without context and that’s not always available to the viewer. So I had a rethink: no text.

Without the text the set began to resemble an ad campaign less. Good.

I was then encouraged to examine my preference for b&w over colour. One commenter made me realise that b&w potentially places this narrative in the past, when it is in fact a very contemporary issue that I’m trying to depict.

Then I had a realisation: my preference for b&w is almost certainly coming from my current Documentary course reading (‘The B&W Document’) and I’ve let it seep into this assignment. The perils of parallel study!

So between the past/present confusion and the fact that I don’t want the set to look like documentary photography, I ended up flipping my preference: the set will be in colour.

Background options

What remains, however, is the question of what to do with the background.

To recap, I want to keep the main images tall and thin (2:1 ratio) against a horizontal ratio background, as I am aiming to imply a narrowing of focus – a kind of tunnel vision. The options on what to do with the remaining space are:

  • Leave blank as pure negative space
  • Unfocused background, washed out to de-emphasise

I’ve mocked up four executions with these two treatments.

Now to seek more opinions – as I’m still not sure…

Assignment 2: processing options

Recap

More details here and here, but in summary:

  • Theme:
    • Food poverty
  • Concept:
    • To depict the sensations of not knowing where your next meal is coming from: anxiety, obsession, inability to focus
  • Execution:
    • Surreal images of foodstuffs (in total comprising an emergency food bank parcel) in public places, to imply hallucinating food

I’ve shot 70% of what I need for the assignment and have started playing with processing options.

Processing alternatives

There are a couple of principles that I’ve already decided on:

  • Images will be portrait but laid on a landscape backdrop – to signify tunnel vision / narrowing of focus
  • Images will be very slightly angled – to signify a subtle skewing of reality
  • Statistics on reasons for food bank use will be added as text overlays

However, the major processing decisions are eluding me. I just can’t decide on two particular decisions:

  • Colour or black & white? (the classic!)
  • Plain white background or unfocused b&w version of scene as background?

Below are four versions each of three executions. Click first image for a slideshow view.

I need peer comments…!

Assignment 2: title?

“Titles are important. They affect the way people read the work.” (Alec Soth 2007)

This is something on which I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Soth.

On past assignments, I haven’t felt like the project really took shape and really worked until it had a title that I felt fit it well.

Previous OCA assignment titles of mine:

  • A Life in Places
  • Old Town Glory
  • Look Closer
  • Surface Tension
  • Two Ways of (Still) Life
  • A Church is Not a Building

In each case I felt that that exact combination of words helped the work, in as much as it gave the viewer enough of a hint about what I thought was important without spelling it out. It gave some kind of framework, a set of bumper rails to avoid the work getting too widely (mis-)interpreted.

On the Food Poverty Project I haven’t yet hit upon the right title, which is bothering me slightly. I’m hoping that once I’ve got the shots in the bag (tomorrow) then either one of the candidates below will feel like a good fit, or inspiration will strike anew:

  • Skint
    • blunt and to the point
    • quite a striking word with a couple of good hard consonants
  • Broke
    • similar, less sonically abrasive, but has dual meaning…
    • broke as in poor
    • broke as in the system is broken
  • Add To Basket
    • ironic
    • associated with online shopping / modern society
  • Cause and Effect
    • political
    • if I juxtapose statistics with images, which I might
  • Stuck on Level 1
    • reference to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
    • maybe too obscure
  • Treasure Hunt
    • ironic

Let’s see if I have a breakthrough once I have the shots taken…!

[EDIT]

I went for none of the above. During the processing and write-up stage I decided on:

“Running on Empty”

Sources

The Ballad of Good and Bad Titles https://alecsothblog.wordpress.com/2007/04/16/the-ballad-of-good-and-bad-titles (accessed 25/04/2016)

Assignment 2: shooting plan

To follow on from the last post on getting my props ready and starting to think about locations, I spent some time yesterday scouting actual locations for the shoots.

Today I need to plan out which items I will place where, as I intend to do the shooting tomorrow.

Locations

I have found a number of locations that could take the surreal introduction of a packaged foodstuff, and started working out some of the principles I would keep in mind for the shoot, to help with the overall intended message (the impact that worrying about feeding yourself has on your mind).

Vantage point

One thing I realised was that most of the locations I found have a road or path in the background. I plan to use this in the vantage point of nine of the ten shots, connoting the ongoing journey. Then I will shoot the final shot (at the food bank) straight on to connote the destination.

Shot by shot plan

I’ve slightly amended the mix of props per shot since the original props post, partly as I’m seeing better physical connections between props and locations and partly because I’m seeing more logical groupings between foodstuffs.

This is the current plan (subject to change, of course):

  1. Cereal: on bus stop timetable board
  2. Beans: on top of gas meter cupboard
  3. Cup-a-soups: in phone box like adverts
  4. Tinned veg + rice pudding: on top of bollards
  5. Instant mash: under a car windscreen wiper
  6. Pasta: in cubby hole in brick wall
  7. Pasta sauce: in open door (ajar)
  8. Tinned meat and fish: on a bench
  9. Apple juice and tinned fruit: in branches of a tree
  10. Teabags, milk, sugar and biscuits: outside food bank

So by this time tomorrow I hope to have all the shots in the bag and ready for processing. I have a few different ideas for processing to support the intended message.

To be honest my biggest concern is being spotted by quizzical local residents whilst taking photos of food in strange public places! I’d better take out my student ID card with me…

Assignment 2: props and locations

Recap

My Assignment 2 concept is to illustrate the effects of food poverty on a person experiencing it.

The execution plan is to scatter the contents of a three-day emergency food parcel around public locations.

The effect for the viewer is something between (a) hallucinating foodstuffs in odd places and (b) a kind of grim own-brand treasure hunt. I’ll let the viewer decide which – both work with the underlying intent.

Props

Here are the contents of a three-day emergency food parcel for a single person.

Food Parcel.jpg
Food parcel

As the brief requests 10 images I had an open question on how to place the foodstuffs in the public locations, with three options as I saw it:

  • All items in every shot
  • Divide the parcel into 10 portions and place one portion in each location
  • Divide the parcel into 10 portions and cumulatively build up the parcel i.e. 10%, 20%, 30%… up to 100%

I ruled out the first option as a bit cumbersome and repetitive.

I think I’ve also ruled out the third option (but not totally sure yet). I’m erring towards the second option, equally dividing the props across the 10 locations. Whether I choose the second or third option, the next step was to divide the parcel into 10 approximately equal and sensible groups.

Food Parcel segmented.jpg
Food parcel – segmented
  • Soups
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Fruit juice and desserts
  • Cereal
  • Milk and biscuits
  • Pasta and sauce
  • Meat and fish
  • Tomatoes and instant mash
  • Coffee and sugar

{EDIT: swapped the coffee for tea – more British]

These aren’t set in stone as to a large degree I will end up going with what I think looks right in each location. I do want to try to match the shape and/or contents of the foodstuff to the location – somehow.

Locations

I’ve begun scouting locations but to be honest haven’t yet decided on 10 sites.

I have some images pre-visualised:

  • Cereal box, for some reason, I always see in a bus shelter
  • Instant mash, because it’s flat, looks like it might work well under a car windscreen wiper
  • Tins I can see balanced on top of road bollards
  • Something (haven’t decide what yet) might look good in an old phone box
  • Ditto on a park bench
  • Ditto on a narrow path/passageway
  • The final image should be outside the food bank – currently thinking the coffee (to denote ‘welcoming/friendly’)

I plan to finish location scouting and come up with a provisional shooting plan tomorrow, with a view to shooting on Monday/Tuesday next week.

More to follow…

Assignment 2: ideas and experiments

As per the initial post with my Statement of Intent, I’ve been thinking about and trying out some ideas on how to get my message across regarding food poverty and its impacts on individuals.

I’ve batted a few ideas back and forth for a couple of weeks, some I’ve tried out and others I abandoned at the idea stage. Summary below:

1. Choices

One of the issues I heard food bank clients voice was the need to make tough decisions on what to spend their limited money on – ‘heating or eating’ is the classic one, with others being trading off food against e.g. children’s clothes, bus fares or sanitary products.

I envisaged a white background tabletop studio set series depicting two items of the same price, with the title being the price, e.g. (these are stock images, I didn’t execute this idea):

5054070190180_130_IDShot_4                   21106446_130_IDShot_4

60p

I stepped away from this idea for a couple of reasons. First, I thought it was just a little too simple. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, I saw an amazing project with enough similarities to dissuade me. Helen my tutor had pointed me to Stefen Chow’s vast and impressive project The Poverty Line, which depicts amounts of food by price value, according to daily income on the poverty line in over 20 countries worldwide.

Poverty Line
The Poverty Line – Stefen Chow

The overarching concept and the specific execution are not exactly what I had in mind, but the core idea of depicting food according to value in a typographical presentation was too similar.

2. Hand to mouth

Very early in my thinking I became enamoured with the phrase ‘living hand to mouth’, and the gestural possibilities it offered.

I visualised isolating hands and mouths in photographs to depict how this need to find food becomes all that is important in life:

I was visually inspired, I realised later, by the Broomberg & Chagrin project People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots) (2011), their postmodern take on the Northern Ireland photographic archive, where archivists’ stickers had obscured small circular parts of images for a couple of decades.

screen-shot-2012-07-20-at-19-03-41
People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground (Dots), 2011 – Broomberg & Chagrin

I abandoned this mainly because I just couldn’t really get it to work as well as I’d visualised it. The end results could have looked very same-y, with little sense of narrativity or breadth. Also, on an interpretive note to match the wordplay of the concept, mouths are almost always above hands and so ‘read’ first, making the initial reading ‘mouth-hand’ rather than ‘hand-mouth’. Once I realised this, I couldn’t shake it off.

So I put this one down as a noble failure and moved on. Elements of it such as the negative space still attract me but I’m still thinking how to work them in.

3. Tunnel vision

Something that food bank clients have articulated is the sense that the need to provide food becomes all-encompassing and prevents them focusing on anything else. If you take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model, these are people stuck on Level 1, worrying about the most basic physiological human needs. There’s no scope for thoughts of self-esteem, relationships or even physical safety when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.

I tried to imagine what such anxious single-mindedness feels like. The visual metaphor I came up with was something like tunnel vision, where you can only focus on one small sliver of life and disregard all else.

I mocked up a few versions of this, a physical manipulation by taping card over portions of my camera lens to narrow the field of light to a vertical strip, and a couple of post-processing versions where I blacked or whited out portions of the image in software:

Whilst I liked the idea in theory, I really disliked my results. This kind of manipulation, real world or digital, just doesn’t feel like my style. I understand the importance of experimentation and so happy to try new approaches, but I just don’t think this works, not the way I’m executing it anyway.

My other concern was content: I’d need to construct 10 scenes relevant to food poverty experience from a first-person viewpoint, and I’d only got four or five decent ideas that I knew I could stage.

Like the ‘hand to mouth’ concept I think elements of this have some merit, so am thinking how to work these aspects into the chosen idea.

4. Hallucinating food

I put these two words in an email to my tutor as a last-minute throwaway idea to add to a few example concepts, yet after a few days it really started to take hold.

Another way of depicting the ‘anxious, obsessive’ state of mind described earlier, when food is uppermost in your mind, is to depict surreal scenes where foodstuffs are appearing in unexpected places.

This started to appeal once I realised that I could directly relate this to work of food banks. A food bank will provide an individual or household with a three-day emergency food parcel based around a checklist. The example below is for a two people but I intend to work with the list for a single person.

Checklist

This gives me a partial content framework for the concept – I could stage scenes where one or more of these items is in a public place. I envisage a journey narrative, so that the set could resemble a grim kind of treasure hunt, culminating in arrival at the food bank.

Once the idea started to develop, I recognised two sources of inspiration for the ‘everyday objects in unusual places’ concept:

Firstly, the photobook III by Robin Maddock (2014). It’s a series of surreal b&w scenes in US cities with one of three everyday white objects inserted into the frame: a ping pong ball, a blank sheet of paper or milk. The effect is strangely enthralling, like Lee Friedlander having a David Lynch dream.

III, 2014 – Robin Maddock

Secondly, I realised I was being influenced by an ongoing personal project of my own! For a while now I’ve been collecting photos of lost objects, and while most of these are clothes and toys, occasionally one is more unusual and surreal:

I recalled two specific instances where I saw foodstuffs in odd places (strangely, on the same street), and maybe these two are the initial trigger for the execution idea:

 

So – I think I’ve landed on the conceptual framework for the series: scattering the component parts of an emergency food parcel across various public places to create a travelogue from home to food bank.

I will start work on the execution over the next few days.

Sources

http://www.broombergchanarin.com/people-in-trouble/ (accessed 14/04/2016)

http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (accessed 14/04/2016)