Exploratory Project 6

Photographing Chin Up – to April 12th.

Following our second Group Crit I was left feeling really flat about Chin Up. It wasn’t as ‘unexpected’ as I had hoped it would be received. Angela said she had thought I had created it with the same ‘pretty materials’ again and hadn’t listened, but then realised I had created it with other materials. I was delighted – but she said something didn’t sit right with her about the piece, but couldn’t say what. Perhaps it was because it was exquisite or that it was because it was an object she desired. I liked the unease. I liked that it made her feel uncomfortable that it ‘didn’t quite sit right’ as that was the point – but perhaps she didn’t feel the discomfort in the way I intended her to…

Sarah made a very interesting point that the collar looked more interesting when seen with the t-shirt (in the making images). This made it more mundane and ‘everyday wear’ – which, of course, depression is – you don’t just ‘keep it for best’. The introduction of ‘styling’ might just push it too far into costume or couture. It was suggested I take lots of shots with me styled differently and see what messages they send out and how they might work together.

I decided to create some as ‘fashion’ photography and some as reportage a-day-in-the-life shots.

To help define the fashion shots, I envisaged these would be used in a magazine article about depression. What would work in that scenario – after all no-one is seeing theactual piece, just a photograph of it in use. I would try:

  • Heavy make-up and styled hair against a flat backdrop and try both b/w and coloured shots.
  • I should be indifferent, expressionless.
  • I should convey desperation.
  • Smudge my make up
  • Be stand-offish – ‘leave me alone’.

I would also take some that would be regular portraits in regular clothes. Mugshots. Like ‘it could happen to anyone’

‘A Day in the Life’ would involve taking photos of me during the course of an average day. Consider trying the following:

  • Getting out of the shower/in the bathroom
  • In bed
  • Putting the collar on as I get dressed
  • Dressing for work
  • On the phone
  • Making a cup of tea/in the kitchen
  • Watching tv (turned out this would not look natural, as it was impossible to relax in the collar, so the image didn’t work in a natural or unnatural position – just looked ‘odd’)
  • In a depressed state – in my pjs or dressing gown, looking dishevelled
  • Opening the door/going out (rain prevented outside shots)

The everyday images DO show that depression is something you have to live with everyday and find ways to overcome it. How to get dressed, how to drag yourself downstairs, eat, drink, go out etc. All of which are made more difficult (or even farcical) by wearing the collar and/or having depression. I find it very hard to be objective about these images – I think it is because they really do look like me (well they would) how I see myself in the mirror. And therefore, I find it hard to look beyond the shock of seeing me. ‘Look at my hair, not a flattering top/angle/state of the kitchen etc’. I can’t see the picture as a whole and what messages it conveys – I try, but something always distracts me. It was also hard to take ‘action’ shots with just me, the tripod and remote – so some look at little stunted. This could easily be resolved by having someone else take the shots or, preferably, me taking photographs of someone else wearing the collar.

However, once the images start to have a ‘mask’ of make-up applied to me, I become happier to see them. I do find some of them slightly disturbing. The eyes are particularly white and I prefer many of the shots in black and white – as they are starker. But the coloured ones work on the extreme close-ups. I would also have like to have taken this piece out into the Fens and photographed a model wearing it out in the landscape – the juxtaposition of mental ailment in a physical form with the medication presented as a vast environment rather than a tiny pill – a barren or sparse landscape (inspired by Rebecca Horn’s work – such as Unicorn). I think there is much to be drawn from her work and processes.

As photographs the fashion shots work best. However, as art I can begin to see why the everyday images speak more. The fashion shots are, again, ‘closed’ and resolved. They exist as an entity where the focus and setting are carefully controlled and nothing intrudes into the peripheral vision between the audience and the collar. The mundane settings are full of visual distraction and stimulation though. The ‘peek’ into someone else’s life and home – which we all love to do, but know we shouldn’t. The subject doesn’t appear to warrant a photograph being taken of them – and then you notice the collar. What is it for? Why are they wearing it? how does it restrict them? Why are they wearing it in bed?

I would really like to do a day in the life series of these – a wall of images that covered every aspect of my day wearing the collar. Perhaps I would feel less fazed by this and, looking back on the black and white images, I feel much happier about my depiction in them.

The mugshots work least well – they are neither one or the other. They aren’t dramatic or mundane enough. They just are… and are nothing.

I do like the close-ups of the perilous elements of the collar and particularly the tension on the skin. You don’t see a face or the whole item and have to wonder what this contraption against the skin is for. There is another level of ambiguity here. But it is much more claustrophobic, intense and dangerous than when seen at a distance – the everyday images are almost humourous. These shots are aggressive and shocking just from the indentations in the skin. But the reference to depression is likely lost here and replaced with something much more violent and sinister. Omission can also change the meaning of an image as much as inclusion can. Often the further you put yourself from a scary object the more ridiculous it becomes – perhaps it is the same here. The closer you look, the worse it is – further away it becomes a catwalk couture piece…

I also took some photographs on my iphone of the photographs displayed on my laptop screen in order to text them to people. However, I really like the lined effect this gives from the screen and adds a whole other (sinister level) of questioning around appropriate use of the internet (porn, illicit or misappropriated images etc).

I posted photographs of this piece in the creative section of Blackdogtribe.com (an online community for depressives) for comments.

Overall the creation of the collar took 4-5 days and the photography a further 2 days – but I did not set a time limit to this project, just to finish it with the EP frame.

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