M4 Wk3: Constructed Realities

Week 3 Forum: Subjective Traces, Spaces, Faces, Places

‘While photographs may not lie, liars may photograph’ (Hine 1909: 111).
Similarly, Sontag (1977: 6) recognised the interpretative nature of the photographic image as a subjective construction: ‘Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are’.

I would be deeply saddened were my practice to be interpreted as lies.  The inability for a camera to record well the dynamic range within stained glass necessitates interaction and the production of constructed photographs.  Thus the images reflect my interpretation of the stained glass, but done in a way that is at worst a heightened reality.

My practice is not designed to trick the viewer but rather, take them on a journey through locations that often they cannot visit.  Providing them with a rare glimpse of the stained glass optimally illuminated, ‘restored and cleaned’ where appropriate, set in a manner to draw focus singularly at the stained glass rather than the context in which it was placed.  I hope to open their eye to a vanishing history that is often hidden in plain view with the intention of inspiring them to visit not just the chapels of Oxford, but chapels, churches and places of worship that they come across wherever they travel.

For the most part, I minimise the amount of post-production work necessary, but on occasion I have investigated the appropriateness and effectiveness of more significant, aggressive ‘cleaning’.  The roundel of Eunice & Timothy was in a sorry state that hid much of the beauty of the light.  This seemed a perfect opportunity experiment, with the resulting image being, I hope, a true likeness of how the stained glass might once have looked (the animate GIF below does not do justice to the quality of the finished image).

Eunice and Timothy GIF

Dominic Price (2018) Eunice and Timothy [Henry Holiday, 1896 – Chapel of St. Nicholas] – before & after extensive digital ‘cleaning’

The photograph chosen to illustrate this week’s Forum features Sadie Pfeiffer, Spinner in Cotton Mill, North Carolina, photographed by Hine, an investigative photographer for the National Child Labour Committee.  Having tricked his way into factories and mills posing as a Bible seller, Hine photographed the horrors of child labour in an effort to demonstrate to the public that there was the need for legislation to cut the number of child labourers. [Interestingly, The J. Paul Getty Museum gelatin silver print below Link, is differently titled and dated to that of MoMA’s, taken from the same negative LinkSadie Pfeifer, a Cotton Mill Spinner, Lancaster, South Carolina 1908].

Cotton Mill worker (low res).jpg

Lewis W. Hine / J. Paul Getty Museum (1910) Spinner in Cotton Mill

This photograph was part of a body of work that represented how Hine felt that children must not be exploited.  It was vital to his work that the photographs were truthful – he commented that he made “double-sure that my photo data was 100% pure – no retouching or fakery of any kind.”  His work was some of the most important photographic work in terms of promoting social change in the early twentieth century.  A wonderfully detailed article focussing specifically upon Sadie Pfeifer can be found HERE.

The sad scene of Sadie Pfeifer is perfectly juxtaposed with a the infamous photograph of Frances Griffiths (referred to as ‘Alice’ in the famous series of images).  History is littered with the production of images to deceive, be it for financial gain, notoriety or other nefarious motives.  Possibly one of the most famous photographic hoaxes of the 20th century were the Cottingley Fairies.  Photographed by 16-year-old Elsie Wright of her nine-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths, it was not until 1983 that the two girls admitted the photos were fake.  In the 1920s, Sir Arthur Conan Doyal championed the series of images as genuine and illustrated a magazine article with them to prove the existence of the previously folkloric fairies.  Recently a pair of the original photographs were sold by Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, for more than £20,000.

Cottingley Fairies

Elsie Wright (1917) Alice and the Fairies

Removing the fundamental lie from the Cottingley series and reading them as surprisingly well composed, constructed photographs, taken by a 16-year-old of her cousin, then the images hold very up well.  They are fictional, but rather beautiful and suggest a glimpse into the mind of a nine-year-old.  This image seems perfectly to represent Hine’s quote ‘While photographs may not lie, liars may photograph’.

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