Methods and Meaning

This weeks topic ‘Methods and Meaning’ covers the technical strategies we use when making bodies of work and subsequently how we choose to display and distribute it afterwards. These choices are hugely relevant in how viewers will feel about and respond to the work. 

We were first asked to think about ‘faux pas’ within photography, something we would traditionally consider a mistake or ‘wrong’ but in doing so, actually creates something entirely new and interesting because of its faults. 

The given example was of Jean-Marie Donat’s project ‘Predator’ where she has collected an archive of old photographs where the shadow of the photographer is included within the foreground of a portrait of someone else (Marsh, 2015). Traditionally we would usually avoid this, as the shadow may ‘ruin’ the composition of the image. It also breaks ‘the fourth wall’ (Ebrahim, 2018) between viewer, subject and photographer where we get a glimpse of who is behind the camera instead of solely the subject in front, the presence of the photographer makes us aware the scene may be staged in some way rather than a natural true to life image. 

Donat’s ‘Predator’ collection only includes images where the photographers shadow is wearing a hat, the hat is what’s important “because you end up thinking it’s the same person - the same man in every photo” (Marsh, 2015). This gives the series such an eery feel that honours its title - you no longer recognise the shadow as a photographer but instead as the Predator.

The theme of photography faux pas led to me think about images I had discovered last summer when sorting out my late mothers studio, including boxes and boxes of old photographs, some from when I was little, but mainly before I was born. I remembered some photographs with double exposures, whether done accidentally or purposefully they created really interesting results.

This is an image of my older sister when she was little, with a double exposure on top looking upstairs to a painting on the landing. It takes some looking to work it out and understand what is what, but I think it is that confusion that makes the image quite powerful. The innocence of a sleeping child in the centre, with this chaotic overlapping creating an eery sense to these otherwise simple images. I unfortunately couldn’t find it but I recall another shot of a Cornish seascape with my sister on a swing super imposed on top. I think these ‘accidental’ shots actually make such interesting images and can evoke such sentimental and romanticised feelings of the past, or even more eery and atmospheric versions, despite being technically ‘messy’. A double exposure creates another layer to an image and another dimension of meaning, creating surreal works with different levels of significance and symbolism.

“I like the multi layeredness you get with double exposure.  There’s also a dreamlike sense, or perhaps something about the environment that will shape the child.  There’s something about transitoriness too.  It calls to mind the way childhood memories don’t necessarily form a coherent linear pattern, aren’t concrete, but are fleeting visual vignettes, flashbacks, montages.”

This was a response from one of my peers, a very powerful observation. I look back at the image again and it conveys elements of the human condition. The sleeping child clouded with other elements in the image does suggest a dream like state but jarred and jagged, the memories aren’t ‘concrete’ they ebb and flow between reality and distorted echoes of recollection. 

I also found this shot of myself as a baby, with my mother and sister.

The image has come out technically fine, except with a light leak on the left. This obviously happens accidentally on film cameras, light leaking on to the negatives and ruining a ‘clean’ shot. However, now in the digital age we tend to see them used creatively, digitally added in to give a ‘vintage’ feel. We choose to add in a technical fault in order to create a desired effect, in order to evoke sentimental feelings.

In my previous project ‘Home’ I used personal archival shots alongside my own work in order to convey feelings of change and loss. The project was about the loss of my mother, and how my family home served as a memory of her. The use of both archival images and my own photography created this balance between past and present, how everything I photographed and saw within my home connected to a memory I had of her. I think I made this project when the loss was very fresh, and there are successful elements, but I can also see flaws that I didn’t initially see when making the work. This way of working was purposeful and despite its flaws, it is of course still very important to me, it is very emotive and successfully conveys the memories of my mother and my childhood imprinted into my home. 

When creating this project, one of the works I was inspired by was Dinu Li’s ‘The Mother of All Journeys’, where he retraced the journeys his mother took from China to Hong Kong and eventually to England. Li uses a mix of old family photos as well as new photographs, documenting significant places of his mothers past but as they are today. I was inspired by this work because it used old family snapshots, which we would usually not give much artistic worth too, yet working alongside Li’s own photography it became “a meditation on the interplay of photography, time, distance, and memory” (Leonard, date unknown). Viewing the archive shots alongside his new work creates a physical timeline for viewers to understand, it encourages us to think about what has happened in the time between. This is exactly what I was projecting in my own work. 

  • Ebrahim, S. (2018) Photography | The Fourth Wall. Available at:,is%20considered%20a%20meta%2Dfictional (Accessed: 3rd February 2021)
  • Leonard, C. (date unknown) The Mother of All Journeys. Available at: (Accessed on: 6th February 2021)
  • Marsh, T. (2015) Polar Bears and Blackface: Jean-Marie Donat Has Collected Over 10,000 Creepy Old Photos. Available at: (Accessed: 3rd February 2021)
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