'Absence is the highest form of presence'
‘As Marx originally suggested, nature no longer offers itself free of the ‘sensuous’ engagement of human labour – mountains, rivers, forests and fields, some of the most elemental dorms in which we can now encounter ‘nature’, are all tainted by culture.’
- Chris Jenks’ ‘Visual Culture’ (1995: 10)
Human representation is rarely decoded as an objective thing. “Culture” has affected the way we regard certain identities.
It’s been quite a challenging period for me. I still haven’t received the necessary DSLR or studio training to access certain spaces should I need them. It’s been tough because stress is inducing various illnesses, and this time around they’re a bit heftier than a cold. I’ve booked the DSLR training because frankly I just want to get it out of the way. I’ll probably end up using my own DSLRs anyway, but I don’t want to not go for it and then be tripped up by it later on. I’ll have to do my studio training afterwards, which is pushing it really close. Hopefully once I get both done I’ll be able to access space and resources at the studios at Margaret Street and Parkside.
Additionally, I’m still finding it difficult to decide on a date to begin shooting. Many of my models are working full time jobs, or are travelling up and down the country for projects. If I shoot on the weekend – which is when most people are free – I won’t be able to use the spaces at Margaret Street or Parkside to do it as both studios are shut on the weekend. Still trying to figure out an alternative. Maybe at my house – Lina Iris Viktor took her self-portraits in her kitchen if my memory serves me well!
I also received some feedback on what I’ve been doing so far, which was valuable. Most of my peers at Margaret Street are white, and so I was intrigued to hear what they got from my work. They were quickly able to pick out that I was looking at identity and privacy; one person even mentioned the quote, ‘eyes being the window to the soul,’ so that was reassuring. Many people expressed their discomfort for not being able to fully read the figure in the image. One person said that they felt like ‘something is lost,’ as a result. I was really glad they felt this way, and was also aware that they weren’t expecting me to be glad about it.
Other feedback was solely about the golden eyes – it looked like ‘demonic possession’, and quite ‘flat’ and ‘unnatural’ – ‘maybe due to a lack of shading’, was one suggestion. There was a suggestion to consider painting on the portraits instead. They liked the quote that my friend had written and stuck on the wall – this is the same friend I had the hair-washing conversation with.
Not long before receiving this feedback, I had begun drawing alternative eye designs on my ‘found photos’, and they were more receptive to this. People drew a lot of importance from the use of gold - not so much for the use of black, but I’ll reiterate that almost everyone was white and there were no Black people there.
‘Representation is a crucial location of struggle for any exploited and oppressed people asserting subjectivity and decolonisation of the mind.’
bell hooks’ ‘Black Looks: race and representation’, (1995: 3)
‘Berger claims that this is a form of resistance against the structures of domination.’
Mark Durden’s ‘Fifty Key Writers on Photography’ (2013: 47)
There were the obvious associations: wealth, money, value, power. One peer brought it back to the history of exploitation used to attain gold, and how Black people and gold shared this relationship of being desirable to own at one point, and still exploited to this day. Ideas of greed arose, and I really appreciate that he saw all of this in my very rudimentary draft.
It also reminded me of what Lina said about forcing people to read your work by keeping it subtle: 'absence is the highest form of presence'. Potent subtlety. Leave clues, and if they care enough (and if you’ve placed the right clues) they’ll be able to engage with the work well. I don’t really believe in spelling things out for perfectly capable people anyway.