As you’ve seen, there are many examples of photography that avoid the use of the human figure in order to communicate truths and stories about humanity. Do your own research into areas you’ve been inspired by in this project; delve deeper into the areas that interest you. Continue to think about how this might inform your own practice.
As people, we constantly leave imprints on the landscape that betray how we live our lives. These can be very revealing. Forensic scientists analyse this in a quest for evidence and to build a profile of a suspect. Evidence of human activity can therefore say as much about who we are as our facial portrait does. For example: photographs of the mass graves of war victims, the plans and weoponry used can all reveal more about a despot dictator than any portrait ever could.
While photographs of our actions can reveal a lot about us, so can images of items that we own. Klepuszowska highlights the importance of mundane items in the lives of others. Using shallow depth of field and a plain back background, Living Spaces draws attention to these items invoking a sense of isolation for these older people. Is something we regard as unimportant is suddenly portrayed as very important in the lives of others we feel humbled. The viewer develops a sense of connection to their plight through this contrast. For this to work the items must be capable of attracting the empathy of the viewer, not obscure items.
Accomplished portrait photographers frequently talk of connecting to the real person behind the mask of a smile, aiming to reveal something about their personslity. While there are many exellent examples where this is true, any single portrait image can only ever hint at one aspect of character, never revealing the full persona, Alongside detecting character, attitude and demeanor, our actions and possessions say a lot about who we really are.
In On Photography, Sontag points to Irving Penn’s 1975 commissioned portraits of celebrities where he presented images of their cigarette butts. Speaking about another photographer’s work, Szarkowski commends that so much of someone’s personality can “be coaxed from subject matter <that is> profoundly banal” (Sontag, 1979. p137)
Darren Jones’ approach is to make a still life out of the things we take away with us on a trip.
Jones’ work raises questions of what is really important in our lives. Going on a trip is when we have to be ruthless, packing only essentials in order to travel light and adhere to airport baggage limits while still wanting to be comfortable. Here we can see his priorities condensed, distilled and beautifully arranged. If someone asked for a list of our most important items how many of us would say toothpaste?
The items have been arranged like flowers or other delicate, precious items, befitting of their relative importance while staying away from home. It makes for a slightly incongruous arrangement overall.
I’m keen to explore this idea deeper: contents of bags, car gloveboxes, bedside reading choices, crockery, shoes, finger nails and doorways all potentially offer insights into who we really are.
Kertész arguably created one of the photographic world’s most iconic still life images with ‘The Folk’ in 1928.
Here an everyday eating utensil has been seen in a clean, minimalist way that highlights the pleasing form of the folk while in no way attempting to make an abstract form of it. It is, simply, what it is – readily identifiable as a folk resting against the side of a bowl. I note that the apparent simplicity of the image belies the effort that went into setting it up, painstakingly arranged so that no shadows overlap confusingly. Both item and shadow are independendly distiguishable as folk and bowl.
There’s a quiet sadness, in this as well as other work by Kertész, which fascinates me: the bowl is apparently empty; a dark shadow features prominently; there’s no evidence of a dinner guest at the table. I read from the Phaidon website that Kertész was a ‘deeply reserved‘ man who ‘often spoke of the lack of close contact with other artists‘. He had fled twice – from his home in Hungary and then from Paris in the war – so perhaps there was a sense of never being settled in a place called home, entirely at ease. Is his personal sense of loneliness what we can really see in this image?