Shoot 11 | Daffodils

In pursuit of the development of my project I felt that I needed an extra element to support the portrait and documentary work that I have been producing. In response I felt that a pertinent way to experiment would be in the direction of imagery of flowers, mainly daffodils. I have some good reasons for this, firstly. My motivation for challenging the theme of male mental health was due to the loss of three friends within a week in March 2020, one of which part of my extended family. All to suicide or preventable actions. This provoked a very powerful response from the local community with many choosing daffodils to represent the people in their thoughts.

As a result, whether it works as a project or not I am currently unsure however as I am very much emotionally invested with my project it did seem a natural destination to explore. Having sought feedback on the initial idea my peers commented that the use of floral elements offers a sense of fragility and metaphor for mental health which will possibly work as a binary opposite to the stereotype of men being strong.

Mental Health Foundation | Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival

From my previous research of the Mental Health Foundation, I managed to identify some key information which will inform my practice of conducting interviews. I decided to further my contextual understanding of the MHF. Upon doing this I identified the Scottish Mental health Arts Festival. The website states…

‘It aims to support the arts, explore how engagement in the arts can help prevent mental ill health, and challenge mental health stigma. Led by the Mental Health Foundation, SMHAF combines high artistic quality with strong grassroots support, community engagement and social activism.’

In response to identifying this avenue I quickly put together an email and PDF of work to hopefully gain some support for my project. However I understand that I am late in submitting my work as the festival starts at the beginning of May.

The festival has a sub theme called ’70 Stories’ which has been curated to coincide with the 70th anniversary of MHF. Having sent an email I don’t expect to be successful in gaining entry however it may be a good opportunity to receive some feedback and identify opportunities in the future.

At this stage of my project I am feeling stronger about submitting work as I now have some of the podcasts in place. This week I shared some of the work with my peers on the course and was met with positive feedback with particular comments about how the photographs make much more sense now that they are accompanied with the audio.

The next task will be to transcribe the audio to see how it fits with the photography, I am in no doubt that this will be a big task and time consuming. Of late, it feels although my project is progressing at a snails pace. Understanding that it is easy to lose motivation at times like these I find that at least having some podcasts to accompany the photographs does represent progress. The benefit of this is that I now have something more than just photos to submit to potential opportunities for dissemination which is heartening.

I have also recently submitted a portfolio to the Open Walls call with the British Photography Journal.

https://www.mhfestival.com/projects/70stories

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/men-and-mental-health

Artist Submission | Stockport Art Gallery

In the pursuit of an exhibition space I have applied to Stockport Art Gallery to hold a local exhibition. In order to do this I wrote a statement in addition to submitting six images from my project. I volunteered to promote the event myself and emphasised the positive response from the community I’d already received.

Podcast | Irish

Within this podcast ‘Irish’ talks about a lifetime caring for his mother who was mentally ill and piecing his life together after prison. Having his own struggles with depression and self loathing, he is now putting his extraordinary life experience to use by working in the care sector. A moving story about life, resilience and suffering.

Irish

Taking Stock | Portraits

This week has consisted of continuing to edit the audio recordings from the interviews that I’ve been conducting. Until recently I’d been editing using the audio channels in adobe premiere. This was ok for a while, however as the interviews mount up it became increasingly difficult to handle all of the recordings in terms of working with multiple channels and being able to visualise the clips on a timeline. Therefore I downloaded adobe audition which is professional podcast making software. Having familiarised myself with the workspace I was able to set up a multitrack session which was beneficial as the software provides clear channels to import edit and recording. Being able to see each recording in a colour coded channel enabled the organisation of the audio. Once imported I was able to set about editing each interview, removing any unnecessary conversations and interruptions. I was then able to raise the volume of each interview before figuring out how to reduce background noise. Having acquired the knowledge of this software I was able to significantly speed up my workflow which is useful as I had spent long periods of time feeling as though as was making little progress.

Adobe Audition with Edited Audio

At this stage I have a number of separate interviews that have been edited down to what I feel is the most relevant. My next task will be to export each interview as a single text before uploading to a publishing platform. In the past I have uploaded audio to sound-cloud however having had some initial success in embedding the audio into my CRJ, I now realise that this isn’t always the case. I am also unsure of the accessibility from mobile devices however I will continue with sound cloud until I find a better option. Another avenue will be to couple the interviews with images and upload to youtube however I’m not sure the audience experience would be enriched by such an approach. Having a twenty minute piece of audio is a long time for a viewer to look at one to three images. I am conscious of the need to develop methods of dissemination and this approach may represent progress although not appropriate for final presentation.

At the top of the page is a collection of the portraits I have taken thus far. Now that I have made work I find it personally beneficial to continue to look at the photographs. As my relationship with the work matures I find that my relationship changes and I am able to see where I have developed in addition to identifying problems I have in relation to my DNA as a photographer. I’m quite pleased with some of the vantage points and I am able to see the benefit of shooting with a 35mm prime lens and I’m warming to working at this focal length as opposed to shooting a zoom lens at 24mm.

Going forward I would like to begin to make work in locations outside of the home, possibly the work place although this may make future work look more commercial. I’m not sure if this is a danger as it might insert a commercial appeal however a consequence may be the work becomes less intimate. Having identified this quandary a task will be to take the work outside home whilst retaining a sense of intimacy.

Male Mental Health | Subject Research

Starting research into the broader subject matter of mental health in males feels a bit like trying to jump into a sea of information and knowing where to start is quite difficult although it isn’t hard to find statistics which make rather grim reading.

Within this article published by mentalhealth.org I found some interesting info regarding the possible reasons of male mental illness. And in consuming this info I will hope to offer some personal insight from my own experience and of those I have interviewed as part of my project.

Societal expectations and traditional gender roles

Whilst progressing my work I have certainly noticed that maintaining gender roles has been an important factor and although participants have in the main been very frank and honest in sharing their experiences, I feel that a male discourse is present in both photographic work and in the audio recordings. When collaborating with participants I feel that I have been able to access some emotion, however at the few points a metaphorical mask has been removed I feel the mask is quickly replaced with another mask. Almost a tick box approach as if to say ‘I’ve done the honest bit now’. By no means do I intend to demean this level of honesty, rather an acceptance of the patriarchal view of looking at the world.

Men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems

Although probably true, I have spoken to a number of participants who have sought help for their mental health. And from personal experience, one of the main reasons I am probably still here is due to the intervention of a female GP. At my most vulnerable I had a weekly appointment where my GP, although not a specialist was able to provide emotional support on a human level. In maintaining this relationship I felt a she eventually was able to understand my issues and offer critical insight.

Socioeconomic hardship, unemployment

In pursuing this theme I certainly identify with this. Working as a media teacher in the FE sector I have been employed at the same institution for nearly nine years. Around five years ago I experienced a new management structure being implemented and saw many colleagues leave their posts. I’m still not sure why many employees left the college but more importantly in a personal sense. I’m not sure why I haven’t been asked to leave. I understand this may represent a lack of confidence in my own personality and it is possible that I am good at my job. However the feeling of insecurity is something that I have lived with for a long period of time. Sometimes stressful and a source of anxiety which can have a huge impact on myself and my family. At the same time, I feel scared to leave and seek employment elsewhere as I’ve been employed in the same place for so long. A strange conundrum that I haven’t yet solved.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/men-and-mental-health [Accessed 8th April 2021]

Roland Barthes|Mythologies

It has been really tough to get to this blog of late for a number of reasons. In terms of my project, I recently spoke to Laura about the impact of the work I have been making in a personal sense. When preparing a sequence of images to present at the meeting, I spoke of the feeling of being nauseous and having butterflies in my stomach from seeing the work together. Portraits that probably represent the reasons I chose to do an MA however the powerful emotions I felt weren’t anticipated.

The choice to conduct recorded interviews with the encounters serves to reinforce the personal impact although at present this may not be experienced by audiences as I’ve not presented this part of the project as yet. However the experience of editing listening to the audio after the encounter has been immersive and powerful. Obrist, H (2015: p55) speaks of the process of conducting interviews as ‘somehow bringing him closer to his art’ an idea that certainly aligns with my own experience of the last few weeks in making work. I had also wondered about my approach to making this work, raising questions relating to the equipment. Currently using an iPhone voice recorder application I’ve often thought if I should be formalising this process by using a better recorder or even possibly filming my encounters as a way of archiving or adding value. Obrist, H (2015) advocates an informal approach stating that such scenarios offer a more interesting, in what context he means by this, I am unsure but from my own experience I have found that the use of everyday technology appears less threatening. The iPhone is an object that I would have had in my pocket whether making work or not. And in this I feel that I am able to make encounters less formal, making participants feel more comfortable than if an alien object intruded their space such as a voice recorder.

In terms of the current development of my project the next destination is to explore avenues to open the work further in addition to pursuing the portrait and interview approach. As stated earlier the impact of hearing personal stories about suicide attempts and severe mental health issues, stories about people I know that I had no idea about. Served to reinforce the superficial nature of surface depth, this led to pontificating the idea of surface depth, and it is in this consideration which increasingly leads to the subject of gender and more importantly the masculinities that I might be challenging with some success. Having been encouraged to explore this avenue in a portfolio review with Clare Bottomley, Butler (1990) suggests:

‘when we say that gender is performed, we usually mean that we’ve taken on a role; we’re acting in some way…. To say that gender is performative is a little different… For something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman… we act as if that being of a man or that being of a woman is actually an internal reality or simply something that is true about us. Actually, it is a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time’.

Thinking about the role that interviewees have taken when collaborating, encounters are usually met with suspicion and intrigue. When I explain my intention, the suspicion lessens. As conversations unfold, I am becoming increasingly aware that male participants become increasingly confident in explaining their thoughts, experiences and emotions and in doing this I feel that participants voluntarily lead in the dismantling some of the performative tropes highlighted by Butler. The way people speak about their experiences, talk about their vulnerabilities and as an interviewer, I sense the lessening of the performative element. In doing this, I agree with Butlers conclusion to some extent when she argues that gender is a ‘phenomenon that is produced and reproduced all the time.’ In the context of my project I feel that the idea of ‘production, and reproduction’ may reach beyond masculinities and be applicable within the context of social position, class and ethnicity.

Moving back towards the mechanics of my work, one of the overarching quandaries I have been in pursuit of, is the relationship between the photographic, and the poetic. As a starting point for reflecting on such ideas Soth in Franklin (2016: pp 167) suggests

“I see poetry as the medium most similar to photography… Or at least the photography I pursue. Like poetry, photography, is rarely successful with narrative. What is essential is the ‘voice’ (or eye) and the way this voice pieces together fragments to make something tenuously whole and beautiful” 

Although Soth’s ideas are helpful, I still struggle to see beyond this statement and decipher between narrative and poetry. Aware of Barthes ideas about connotation and the suggestion of meaning as a microcosm in a photograph. Now considering ideas on a much broader level through the bigger form of a monograph, and the thought of what my FMP might look like when it’s finished. My recent reading has been directed towards Barthes (1958) book ‘Mythologies’. In a sense I feel frustrated that I hadn’t discovered this book earlier but at the same time I’m happy that at this point in my creative education, I am probably mature enough to read such a book and feel ideally placed to be able to take maximum meaning from the text. My initial assessment leads to the enjoyment of reading but on a more intellectual level, I think the book is a successful examination of symbolism and the explanation of the potential of an object or practice to be representative of something else in relation to social activity and value. Upon reading his essay ‘Steak and Chips’ I was able to decode the idea of the meal as a metaphor of nationalism, masculinity, loyalty and status. In the many relevant passages I am most drawn:

Steak is adorned with a supplementary virtue of elegance, for among the apparent complexity of exotic cooking, it is a food which unites, one feels succulence and simplicity. Being part of a nation, it follows the index of patriotic values: it helps them rise in wartime, it is the very flesh of the French soldier, the inalienable property which cannot go over to the enemy except by treason’.

Without unpicking the metaphorical value of this statement I would rather apply the idea of objects taking on meaning beyond their own vernacular to my own project with the inclusion of daffodils within my own work. In an aesthetic sense, my work has been described as dark and cinematic. The use of flash to create contrast which adds to this idea in addition to a sense of continuity. However I feel that my work is slightly one dimensional in terms of its masculine vernacular. The presence of objects such as bottles of beer, trainers and tracksuits add to appearances which may have further connotations of class and status amongst working class males, possible low education and modest means. However, in reducing people to few recognisable tropes such as these I am failing to account for the emotional intelligence I have encountered in the collaboration in the form of interviews.

Burr (2003) comments regarding discourses ‘It refers to a particular picture that is painted of an event, person or class of persons, a particular way of representing it in a certain light. If we accept the view… That a multitude of alternative versions of events are potentially available through language, this means that, surrounding any one object, event, person etc. There may be a variety of different discourses, each with a different story to tell about the object in question, a different way of representing it to the world’. 

Both Burr and Barthes support the idea of a multitude of discourses, representations and meanings within a text and in relation to my context. The inclusion of floral objects assists in the construction of meanings of fragility, combined with the typically male environment, I am keen to continue to develop the sense of humility and vulnerability within my work. I am aware that in a theoretical sense this seems a comprehensible direction however I’m not currently happy with the methodology of this work. At present I have been photographing flowers in their natural environment, looking for the floral in the urban landscape but a future direction may rely on the further construction of work in order to turn up the volume of my work.

Barthes, R. (1958) Mythologies. Vantage, London

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Abingdon: Routledge.

Burr, V. (2003) Social Constructionism, Second Edition. Routledge, London.

Franklin, S. (2016) The Documentary Impulse, Phaidon, New York.

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