Margret Mitchell | Barthes | Hoggart

In preparation for the shoo ting of my final outcome using a medium format camera I have been researching a number of photographers looking at specific projects which might inform my own. I have made the decision to shoot my final outcome in colour as it is a method I haven’t yet used while working with 120 film. I have decided to shoot portra 400 as my research told me that this type of film offers more versatility when working with skin tones. To date, my project has been based around making portraits and I am a bit nervous about the prospect of delivering such an important artefact especially in the FMP. In a sense I wish I had engaged with this process earlier in the MA however my journey through this course has been enlightening in many ways and I wouldn’t change that.

In terms of looking at work to take influence from, I have been aware of the work of Margret Mitchell for some time and her work in Scottish council estates aligns with my own ideas to some extent. I was initially drawn to the power in her portraiture through realism, subject and environment. The concrete vernacular provides a very impoverished platform which allows her subjects to stand out from the frame, working in tandem to produce a very distinctive discourse which aligns with intentions of visualising a concrete jungle. Mitchell states of her project ‘Passage’…

“I want the viewer to ask themselves a question about how society operates, how choice is related to opportunity and environment. To see that sometimes people choose what they do because really, not much has been offered in the first place.”

Margret Mitchell | Passage

Mitchell certainly raises some important questions about opportunity in impoverished areas. I find myself questioning whether I agree with her. As a child from an inner city council estate myself I question my own sense of opportunity and try to draw on my experience of interviewing participants. Mitchell uses powerful statements and powerful work born out of excellent portraiture to encode a discourse of hopelessness. The idea of merely ‘existing’ in a place I find very unnerving although I’m not sure I totally believe the message in totality. The image above serves as inspiration not only in the sense of the work but also in terms of layout and text. The use of white space lends itself to the delicacy of the work and fairly typical of a photo book of this nature. One feels a sense of seriousness within the work with the eye being drawn to the photography. This is useful as of late my feeling were to look to create a range of visual experiences however this approach is driven by the quality of the photographic work. Food for thought going forward with my own approach.

When appeasing the work I’m drawn to Barthes (1977) when he states in relation to discourse and narrative ‘In order to conduct a structural analysis, it is thus first of all necessary to distinguish several levels or instances of description and to place these in sentences within a hierarchical (integrationary) perspective.

Barthes has been useful in recent weeks and insightful in learning how to look at an image and scrutinise beyond the obvious subjects. Understanding that the studium of a photograph such as that of Mitchell offers any number of visual clues about time place and setting. Their use in a sequence allows a project to move in a specific direction as Barthes puts it ‘intergrationary’ or hierarchical. This will be important in making my own outcome and I am mindful of having work that hooks the viewer in the early stages culminating with a powerful finish.

In order to plot my way through a narrative which has a cohesive discourse Haggart (1957) offers a plethora of useful assumptions regarding a working class vernacular. including shoddily uniform houses intersected by dark alleyways, shades of dirty grey without green or the blue of the sky, gap toothed terrace houses with brick spattered bits of waste ground. Works and grimy pubs. Giant factories and services which attend them and finally ‘The green stuff of the region forces its way where it can’.

One could quote Hoggart’s descriptions almost endlessly and his discourses align with the work of Mitchell. What I am able to establish is a place or setting to direct my work. This is somewhat of a relief as I feel I am able to see in some respects where my work will travel.

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.

Mitchell, M. [Online] Available at: [Accessed] 22nd June 2021.

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