Authorship and Collaboration

“Clearly archives are not neutral; they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection, and hoarding as well as that power inherent in the command of the lexicon and rules of languages” 

  • Alan Sekula (1986) ‘Reading an Archive: Photography between Labour and Capital’ in Evans and Hall (1999), 184-185

I really like this above quote, I have used archive imagery in my previous work where I had to go through hoards and hoards of our family photos which filled up a whole bottom drawer of the dining room dresser. They hadn’t been transferred into folders, mostly still kept in the envelopes from the printer, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t cherished, we keep them because they encapsulate the past and bring back our childhood memories, I am so grateful for them. It is so nice to look at physical images, rather than on a screen that get lost in the past. 

This week we were shown different examples of photographers and projects that play with authorship and collaboration in their work. 

Michael Wolf’s project ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ are photographs of scenes he has come across whilst scouring and exploring through Google maps street view, of accidents that have or are about to happen, captured forever by a google van with a camera. He uses his own camera to photograph the computer screen when he finds a scene. 

This project makes you question if Wolf really is the author of this work. He has not photographed these original scenes, but just re-photographed and re-contextualised them, but in doing so has created a completely new way of seeing these events, and therefore has made it his own. In some images, he keeps in the interactive map graphics, so he is not trying to hide where he has acquired the imagery from, in fact it adds another dimension to this work. I actually really enjoy this project and think it is so clever and it really throws a spanner into traditional photography and what he know and expect. 

“Photography is usually practised in the presence (…) of several individuals but it’s history and theory have been written as the story of single heroes - the photographers”

  • Azoulay 2016: 187

This quote from Arielle Azoulay sums it up, we think of photography as a single person experience but in reality, although it may just be one person pressing the shutter, there are subjects or there may be stylists or there may be collaborators who have shared ideas in order to get to that point. 

I have worked collaboratively in the past in another module from my BA course. I worked with Jo, a lady I met who worked with me in my project ‘Life as a Military Wife’. I wanted to hear her side of the story as a woman, wife and mother who supported her husband, and explore how his career impacted her and her life. I photographed Jo in her home, and used her old archive family photos alongside my work to paint a picture of their life up to now. You can view the work here.

This week we were asked to post on the forum general ideas and themes, and then connect with each other and get ourselves in to groups and work on our own collaborative projects. 

I posted the above quote, the title of Simon Norfolk’s book. However as I read through the forum I became connected to others ideas. 

Ellie posted this quote from Winna Efendi - “when you take a photograph of someone, you take a portrait of their soul”, which I loved and was excited about the prospect of taking some portraits. As we are obviously still in lockdown, the portraits we could take and limited to our households or bubbles or ourselves and so I thought this as a bit of a challenge I wanted to try. 

I also connected to Fiona’s post, of the below image by Eve Arnold. A mother and childs hands. 

I thought it was such a beautiful image and I was drawn to the idea of hands. 

Inspired by both these starting points, it encouraged me think further about our hands. They are our tools for everything we do. They are beautiful and say a lot about a person I think, also incredibly hard to capture in a drawing. A collaborative project could be based on shots of hands, our own or family members, shown alongside traditional portraits, signifying the work they do. This created our groups idea and alongside Angharad, Ellie, Mary and Jules we created our collaborative project ‘Judge me not by my face’.

We were inspired by works from Omar Reda, who photographed peoples hands and then a close up detailed shot of their palm, showing the individual texture and pattern. He explored people of different trades and crafts and how this effected the look of their hands. 

These beautiful shots really show the humanity and importance of our hands, without much context they really tell us a lot about a person and who they are. 

Bill Westheimer’s project was also of inspiration to us, he said “The eyes may be the windows of the soul, but hands reveal our humanity” . ’The Manual Project: The Personalities of Hands’ was Westherimer’s exploration into hand portraits of people from different cultures, ages and occupations. He studied the dominant hand of his subjects, using just that to examine who they are, how they lived and what they may become. 

He first photographs even subjects hand using 19th century wet plate techniques, the subject then created a silver gelatin photogram of their hand, where you can see elements of their movement and touch. And lastly each subject hand writes a statement to go alongside the work. Westheimer didn’t want to include portraits as he saw the faces a ‘distraction’ as a persons hands can tell you so much about a person without seeing their face. We loved this concept which inspired us to think about our own work. 

As a group we discussed how we wanted to photograph those around us and ourselves, a portrait and then images of their hands which would suggest something about who they are or what they do. We discussed if we wanted to show these as matching pairs or mixed up, creating juxtaposing pairs of hands and faces. We tried both but all agreed we liked the mix-match approach, to get our viewers thinking and make their own decisions on which connect up. We decided to keep all the photos black and white in order to create an aesthetic link as we were all shooting in different environments. Below is my contribution to the work, including a self portrait.

Here is our final work, which can also be viewed as book here.

I truly enjoyed this mini project and I am genuinely proud of what we have created in such a short time. It is amazing what can be done whilst working remotely and how our ideas can evolve when working with others.  It was so interesting in our webinars this week to see how others interpreted this activity and created their own projects, there is some real potential in the work we created so quickly. 

Although I had done a collaborative project in the past, it was still very much my project. My project about Jo, who so kindly opened up to me about her life, and although I was open and shared everything with her at every point to get her feedback and check she was happy, it was me creating it and her agreeing rather than a shared effort. This time round it was fun to be able to work collaboratively with other photographers and it is definitely something I would like to do again. I think the input of others is very important to me when making work, I can be very self doubting and get stuck in my own head. I like to share my work and get feedback and guidance, which helps solidify my ideas or help me work through my issues and make changes. Sometimes when I get in my head with artist block I need the guidance of someone elses input to put me back on track, but at the same time I don’t totally rely on that. If I don’t agree with it I stick with myself and the route I want to take. 

I think it is so healthy to engage and therefore be inspired by other’s work and their feedback. How can we grow and improve if we are not drawing upon other work we see, we do not know everything and cannot limit ourselves by thinking we cannot learn from others. 

I think the differences between ‘collaboration’, ‘appropriation’ and ‘plagiarism’ is how you approach your inspiration of something. A collaboration means working together with someone or multiple people, everyone is engaging and putting work in, it is not just one sided. There is consent between everyone involved, and decisions are shared. Appropriating I think means taking inspiration from something or someone but not being honest about it, not connecting with them about how they have been inspired and how you want to go further with the idea, and plagiarism is quite clearly copying an idea completely and not crediting but making it seem it was entirely your own idea and work. A collaboration of any kind, no matter how evenly the work is shared, has to be agreed by all parties. 

  • A, Azoulay. 2016. ‘Photography Consists of Collaboration: Susan Meiselas, Wendy Ewald, and Ariella Azoulay’. Camera Obscura. Vol 31, no. 1, pp 18 7.
  • EVANS, Jessica & Hall, Stuart. 1999. Visual Culture: The Reader. London: Sage.
  • LensCulture (2021) A Series of Unfortunate Events - Photographs byMichael Wolf | LensCultureLensCulture. Available at: (Accessed: 19th February 2021).
  • LensCulture. (2021) The Manual Project:The Personalities of Hands - Photographs and text by Bill Westheimer | LensCultureLensCulture. Available at: (Accessed: 19th February 2021).
  • M, Zhang. (2017)This Photographer Captured People’s Lives Through Their Hands. Available at: (Accessed: 19th February 2021).

First Shoot - 12/02/21

Starting my borders project, and with everything thats going on with Covid 19 currently, I knew I wanted to start in the landscape. As discussed previously I have been exploring maps and marking points of interest in the landscape where the border meets. I went firstly to Trigate Bridge. 

I spent time shooting from both the English and Welsh side - I don’t know if this is a theme I want to look into. From looking out of Wales or looking in? Depending on where I want to take this project, which ever perspective I take may be very important. 

The bridge itself is very picturesque placed within a beautiful landscape so it was enjoyable shooting and making these images. It was a beautiful sunny day, but freezing cold and fresh. 

Due to the time of year and this cold spell we are having the colours of the landscape are quite muted, with browns and oranges and just a slight of green. Alongside the grey brown brick of the bridge and road it makes for quite a dark scene, so the blue sky and the soft light brings a lovely balance. I also enjoyed picking out the contrast of the reflective road signs and sign on the gate, I brightened these and brought out the colours, especially the reflective red, in order to bring focus in and contrast to the calmer tones in the landscape. 

In post production, I tried to edit these as if I was shooting on film. I brought the exposure and saturation down, and enhanced the vibrance and saturation of just certain colours. Alongside the natural light of the day, this really enhanced the feeling of calm and serene. 

After initial editing, I decided I wanted to crop the images to 5:4 ratio, mimicking an old medium format style. This adds to the effect of shooting traditionally, but also really enhanced the composition of the images, especially of the two above which I feel are the two most successful from this shoot.

This feels like a really positive start to the shooting of my research project, and I feel really pleased with the outcome of these shots as landscape work is not my usual style and a little out of my comfort zone. I am excited to continue with this and visit other spots on the map. 

Reading Photographs

This weeks topic is about reading and examining images, looking at single images rather than a series and using semiotics (the study of signs & symbols and their use or interpretation) to decipher the meaning of a photograph. 

We were first asked to post and discuss an advertising image in the forum, describing what and how it is communicating. 

Searching online for adverts I came across this French Eurotunnel ad, depicting budget versions of the Spice Girls with the caption ‘London on the cheap’. It’s a satirical view on typical Britishness, the Spice Girls being one of the biggest British girl bands, but getting this sort of tribute band version to suggest how cheap the journey fare is. It’s simple, descriptive and comedic and doesn’t take much to understand the point they are making. They are instantly recognisable as typically British, using stereotypes to entice travellers. 

When ‘reading photographs’ there are certain things we initially look for. We typically break these down into two parts, the denotation - what we immediately identify and make out ‘what is’, and the connotation - the ideology or message behind it. Barthes used these concepts to form the whole semiotic system and penned his own phrases - the studium and punctum. The studium is what the picture contains and what is depicted, and about understanding the photographers intention. Studium is an interest in the subject, liking it but not compelled by it or loving it.

Punctum however are the elements that “pricks me, but also bruises me” (Barthes, 1981), the powerful aspects that draw you in and really connect to your emotional feelings. Studium and Punctum are subjective and different for every viewer, whereas the connotation and denotation are pretty standard concepts to break down an image - even so creating subjective responses between different people. 

Barthes’ system is confusing and I am still getting my head around it. However I recognise the punctum of an image for me personally would be an image of my mum, just like for Barthes when he found an image of his late mother,  immediately bringing up feelings of nostalgia, grief, love and happiness all at once. 

We then were asked to examine and compare two images - Steve McCurry’s ‘Afghan Girl’ (1985) and Jodi Bieber’s ‘Bibi Aisha’ (2009). 

At first glance there are several similarities between these two powerful portraits; both young Afghan women, their striking gazes possessing strength and resilience. Both subjects are symbolic of all the innocent Afghan civilians affected by the war and terror their country is embedded in. Yet, these two portraits were taken 24 years apart, a never ending war. McCurry’s portrait was candid, taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan in “beautiful soft light”. Sharbat Gula only known as “Afghan Girl”, was angry. Her image captured and taken without permission by a white, Western man. We may question the ethics, but in hindsight, we may also recognise the importance of the image within society and history. Alternatively, Bieber’s 2009 portrait of Bibi Aisha was an organised and consented portrait. Aisha’s husband tracked her down and cut off her ears and nose after she left him. Aisha possesses confidence and resilience, guided by Bieber, a female photographer, to focus on her “inner power and beauty” rather than physical. Viewing these two portraits alongside each other, we can recognise how Bieber gives power to her subject, encouraging her to own her story, whereas in McCurry’s portrait the power is held by him as the photographer, gazing upon her. 

Paul commented back and replied to me, questioning if Bieber really gave complete power to her subject or if she just allowed her more in comparison to McCurry. I thought this interesting and it would have been fascinating to see a collaboration between them to see how Bibi would portray herself against Bieber’s depiction.

I am used to the process of ‘reading’ photos, but I am still surprised each time by the things I miss myself and are brought up by others that then make so much sense when I hear them. 

The way I personally react and interpret images is different to others due to my life experiences and background, I have had a very artistic upbringing due to both parents, and step parents, being artists and art teachers and this has definitely been a massive part in paving my own creativity and being aware of art and culture. I realise I am hugely privileged to have grown up comfortably and happily which also effects the way I view and interpret things, but these privileges doesn’t mean I haven’t faced hardships which also equate to who I am and my outlook. My loss and grief of my mother is also a big part of who I am and how I experience life and art. 

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