Thinking Discourse

As my project develops philosophically while the shooting has been less frequent. The stalling of making work is very much intentional to allow time reflect on my what I do next. Having made hug efforts to interview and collaborate with participants to gain insight into their struggles with mental health. I now have a number of powerful testimonies which is pleasing. Looking at the work I have produced. I’m relatively pleased with where my practice is at in an aesthetic level. And through the making of work I feel that the decision making process really reflects the type of work I would like to make in the future. Taking influence from the baroque and renaissance works in pursuit of structure, space and drama. I have succeeded in producing portraits with a high level of control and understanding. Considering the arrangements of objects that surround subjects, scrutinising the edges of the frame in order to ensure that any tension is intentional.

Now at the stage where I am looking at the work I have made, reoccurring themes begin to emerge which often relate to a working class vernacular. People, buildings and objects all of which place the work not necessarily in a poor environment, but a vernacular that was once probably poor. Small rooms, council houses, tattoos with an almost stereotypical sense of masculinity. Levi Strauss (2020) comments that ‘photography opens up passageways to its subject, not as a signification but as a world, multiple and complex.’ In reviewing my project, the architecture is often encoded with referents historically working and modest, however on many occasion new life has been injected, a sense of pride, not alien to a northern working class mill town although in writing this I am unsure if the term ‘working class’ is even the correct label in contemporary society.


When speaking to Leeroy, I was moved by his story although it wasn’t a story that was totally alien to me. However his progressive outlook and emotional intelligence exemplify that of a man who has achieved a level of status, employment in a managerial role in a corporate world. Sporting success on an international stage while controlling his emotions and as he describes, the ability to check in with himself. Yet he moves back to the place where he feels at home. To be surrounded the community that makes him feel safe. He has been on a journey. His root evidenced by the small room he sits inside. The tattoos on his hands serve as echoes to his modest roots. A discourse.

In appeasing my work in a broader sense, I feel that I have arrived at the stage where I understand the various struggles of the people I calibrate with. This is not to suggest I understand their struggles rather I understand the perspectives of their own experiences. Reoccurring themes such as insecurity and anxiety have taught me of the devastating effect these illness have. Well… If I’m totally honest. I take some personal comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in my personal suffering. Obrist comments.

The connections and principles that produce a collection contain assumptions, juxtapositions, findings, experimental possibilities and associations. Collection making, you could say, is a method of producing knowledge.’ (Obrist 2015)

In highlighting the comments made by Obrist, I am able to make the connection to my own experience and make sense of it through the collaboration. When asking my tutor about her personal approach she simply replied ‘I’m an open book’. Advice I felt was useful and have used to engage with participants. Being honest about my own feelings when asked has definitely brought me closer to the project in an emotional sense. While engaging with a range of participants, my experiences have been different in addition to serving as a ‘collection’ of conversations and portraits. A visual and philosophical collection of knowledge as purported by Obrist. As I continue to contextualise my practice in a philosophical manner, my recent research leads to the challenge of establishing some type of synthesis that binds the project together. When considering the surface depth of what I’ve created, it may be obvious to highlight a general type of studium between the text and the words however, the task of going beyond a polite interest in the identification of a general theme and being able to interrogate my work I’ve been looking at Barthes to deepen my understanding.

Without being sure, I’m increasingly looking at the the idea of a working class discourse across my work. This subject emerged as a result of my last meeting with Laura when she highlighted some work that I made and she challenged its place within the project as I’d stepped out of the vernacular I was previously making. The sequence I made with Roy ventured into a realm beyond working class. The visual discourse encompassing space, modern design and an interest cooking. All slightly alien to my current project although his struggles with mental health are very relevant. The challenge faced is the place of the photographic work in relation to other work I’ve created.


Barthes (1977:85) ‘Discourse must be studied from the basis of linguistics. If a working hypothesis is needed for analysis whose task is immense and whose materials infinite, then the most reasonable thing to posit is a homological relation between sentence and discourse insofar as it is likely that a similar formal organisation orders all semiotic systems, whatever their substance and dimensions.’

Barthes make useful points when identifying a starting point for looking at discourse. Starting with the linguistics contained within the interviews, I am able to pick up on types of language, restricted codes that I understand that perhaps a non local audience wouldn’t. However, the text being only the starting point, the idea of a visual discourse transcends both text and image. At this point I am able to pin point instances of working class vernacular, small spaces resulting in multifunctional uses. Grid lock terraced houses or 1960’s council estates with more space although showing signs of age. Representations which may link to the political climate of housing. In making sense of multiple representations my current research is currently in the direction of working class practices across what I see and what I hear. Hoggart (1957:20) makes relevant comments when considering instances of good and bad luck

‘in what way exactly can working class people be said to believe in it? They repeat phrases but often with a saving prefatory. They say that…’ They do not intellectually examine them: yet on certain occasions they laugh readily at them as ‘old wives tales’. But usually take care to obey their directions‘.

The relevance here is encompassed and interwoven in the vernacular of which I am working. Cultural myths such as men don’t talk about their mental health. The idea that people are able to ‘snap out of it’. Although the ideas of Haggart may be outdated, the collaborations I’ve engaged with have exemplified a lack of intellectual challenging in some instances, mainly in an outwardly facing sense. However I don’t totally subscribe to the fact that working class men don’t talk about their feelings. In most of my interviews I have been met with openness and candid honesty. In making the work I have been met with trust and honesty, my own approach informed simply by being open, supported by a personal connection has encouraged participants to talk about their mental health. Using a restricted local code of language, in their own way using collaborative terms between myself and the sitter.

Barthes, R. (1977). Image, music, text. New York: Hill and Wang.

Haggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy, Aspects of Working Class Life. Penguin, London.

Levi-Strauss, D. (2020) Photography and Beleif. David Zwirner Books, New York.

Obrist, H (2015) Ways of Curating Hans Ulrich Obrist. Penguin, London

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