Week 3 Activity: False Indexes

Activity: “Linda Hutcheon (2003: 117) thinks that contemporary photography ‘exploits and challenges both the objective and the subjective, the technological and the creative’.
Post a response, including visual examples, discussing:
• How you balance the ‘objective and the subjective’.
• The relationship between the ‘technological’ and the ‘creative’:
◦ Is it a dichotomy or a continuum?
◦ How does viewing context influence this relationship?
◦ Whether this is important to you.”

Referring to Wall’s (Horne, 2012) description of photographers as hunters or farmers, with the former tracking and capturing prey and the latter creating images, I think I am both (Horne, 2012; O’Hagan, 2015). Not in the sense of both hunter and farmer at the same time but in the variety of genres of photography that I chose to be part of. For example, capturing wildlife, land and seascapes and items found on beaches, seizing the moment can be a paramount driver. They are unplanned, almost instantaneous and my rapid response is to catch something using a metaphorical weapon (but without harm) as it may never be seen again (at least not by me).

Splash down! Sarah Newton 2018

However, some others of these images could be accused of being both hunter and farmer in the sense that I see a land or seascape or a pieces of beach debris and take time to decide how to compose the image taking context and lighting into account.

Metal plate and spike on the seashore Sarah Newton 2018

My farmer inclinations are resonant in images I have constructed more recently in pursuit of course activities and project creations. In addition, I include here, revisiting places I have been to and imaged before with developed ideas about what else I wish to take and how I want to take and process the results.

Fishing Lure Sarah Newton 2018

To better understand how I think about the dimensions of subjectivity/objectivity and technology/creativity I created a visual representation relating the two dimensions, which I see as continuum (Hutcheon, 2003,117). Although entirely subjective I placed the main photographic genres within this diagram to see where each in my opinion would lie. Interestingly a diagonal emerged running from mid objective/technology to mid subjective/creative. Others may place the genres differently of course. In relating this to my work I would place hunter tendencies in the former quadrant and farmer in the latter quadrant, with images that have tinges of both approaches towards the centre.

Conceptual Map for the Evaluation of Photographic Images no. 2. Sarah Newton 2018     


I do have reservations about pigeon holing particular photographic practices as resonant with hunters or farmers. Placing oneself and others into categories or boxes may unnecessarily limit development that may ultimately be greater in impact (visually and/or commercially) than would be achievable by being known and perpetuating this understanding as coming from one place. If there is a need to classify (as seems to be part of the human condition to do so in making sense of our world) then I would add many more labels in a multi-layered complex network of interconnected activity.

As an exercise I have found this useful for decision making in relation to my project ‘Beauty and the Beach…’ as well as my photography more generally. I can see that the two dimensions referred to by Hutcheon (subjective/objective and technology/creativity) placed in the 2×2 diagram and interrelating with the concepts Wall proposed of hunter and farmer, provide a contextual framework from which I can move into further experimentation in the quest for a focus, style or niche in relation to my project.

Horne, Rebecca. 2012. Holly Andres, ‘Farmer’ of Photographs’ . The Wall Street Journal. (3rd February 2012). Available at: https://blogs.wsj.com/photojournal/2012/02/03/holly-andres-farmer-of-photographs/. [accessed 10-03-2018].

Hutcheon, Linda. 2003. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

O’Hagan, Sean. 2015. Jeff Wall: I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/nov/03/jeff-wall-photography-marian-goodman-gallery-show. [accessed 10-03-2018].

Informing Contexts Week 2: A Question of Authenticity

This week we were asked to reflect on Barthes (1980:89) statement, the impact of viewing context on authenticity and representation and the relationship, if any, with our own practice.

“…in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation”. (Barthes, 1980,89)

My definitions:
Taken and made/processed by a specific person, in a particular location, of a scene and/or object/subject at or over a measurable period of time, using materials that are certified to be what their description says. There is a qualitative component to authenticity in respect of truthfulness and a quantitative component in respect of perceived value/worth, both being interrelated at times.
A depiction/visual description of a scene/object/subject that can be recognised by one or more others in some way. The term representative suggests something is an illustration or version of the type of the original and not necessarily the original itself. There is a qualitative component to representation in respect of recognisability and a quantitative component in respect of the amount of impact experienced by individual viewers.

There are degrees of authenticity and representation. For example, what is produced may partially authentic if one or more of the features is not as claimed/certified. Levels of representation may include a layer where some but not all features of the resultant product/image are recognisable.

The context for viewing the product/image can significantly influence interpretation and response. For example, invited to a gallery for the opening of an exhibition by an acclaimed artist the attendees may well expect genuine/authentic items that achieve exactly what the exhibition claims to do and for this to pay high prices.

In taking images for my project I am photographing what I find on beaches in situ, without touching or changing anything. I shoot from several angles and at times different camera settings as if forensically collecting original/authentic ‘evidence’ of where and in what state I found the object. This presumably is akin to the ‘evidential force’ and ‘testimony’ Barthes (1980,89) referred to. I then leave it, or move it to a different location to take more images, take it to a rubbish bin or take it home with the intention of doing something with it at a later time. Why do I do this? It seemed important when I set out to provide this ‘evidence’ of what can be found. With increased interest in the topic of waste I have noted on social media less interest in this ‘evidence’/authenticity of subject and location and more in the representation of the problem. Examples include huge bags of rubbish collected on beach cleans, sculptures made with the debris and collections mounted and framed illustrating specific types such as bottle tops.

I realise that I have been ‘describing’ through photographing the authentic and have also made representations which could be challenged as not authentic and perhaps untruthful (by experimenting with context, tools (bubbles and crystal ball) as well as digital processing). However a photograph can never be seen to be exactly as the image taken by the photographer and is dependent on “…a spectator to give the picture its signified meaning.” (Bate, 2016, 33). So perhaps it does not matter.

However, on reflection of course it does. Viewers want to know that something did exist and many will also be aware that staging/setting up a scene, cropping  and digitally enhancing images to serve the purpose of the message or storyline is possible an accommodate this knowledge in their responses. Their initial reactions on ‘seeing’ will most likely be to the photographer’s representation and not to the authentic image dependent on the coordinated snap of the internal workings of the camera used. Their questioning and challenging of authenticity will come second if indeed their wider knowledge and experience of the world leads them to do so.


Barthes, Roland & Howard, Richard. 2000. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London: Vintage.

Bate, David. 2016. Photography (2nd Ed.). London: Bloomsbury.

Informing Contexts Week 1 Activity: Photography, Photographies

This week we were asked to consider what a photograph is through studying the viewpoints of Szarkowski, Shore and Squires with the two former being more traditionalist and the latter encouraging experimental approaches. I have found it challenging to place my own opinion in the contexts of theirs. When I think I am relating well to the classification systems proposed by Szarkowski (the thing, detail, frame, time, vantage point) and Shore (physical, depictive (flatness, frame, time, focus), mental) as I like structure and definition I reflect on my images and recent experimentation which, although not as extreme as some of Squires exhibition examples, veer towards a freeing up from traditional and perhaps more comfortable containment.

So in answer to where my views lie and where does my style of image taking fit I think it would be right to say that I am traditionalist in feeling safer abiding by conventions but have a yearning to be more experimental in order to see what creativity is waiting to emerge and how far I can go with this ‘breaking out’.

Sarah Newton 2017
Sarah Newton 2017

Two plastic bags one ‘as taken’ and one digitally processed. The former shows the problem with littering but seems boring and is like thousands of other seen in recent times The latter could be considered more artistic and might be preferable as a wall hanging or fabric design but does not give out messages such as ‘take your litter home’ or ‘ban single use plastics’ in the same way or to the same extent.

When I first looked at this activity I turned it around to first examine what my views of a photograph are and how the three aforementioned authors fitted into my conceptual system rather than seeing how my work fits into theirs. Some hours later I now have a working grid (my liking of structure and neat containment) and have placed their view into my squares! Several points have emerged:
1. Szarkowski and Shore are primarily focussed on the photographer’s intention to take the perspective of recipient/viewer when taking photographs to be viewed whereas Squires appears to place emphasis on the photographers inclinations and intentions and need to express themselves whether or not this accords with engaging viewers.
2. Szarkowski and Shore seem to focus on two senses, vision and emotion. In my conceptualisation I include all the senses as important in a photograph. An image can invoke experiences relation to seeing, hearing, taste, touch and feeling/emotion. Some experiences may be bound by the capability of our imaginations and will have been shaped by genetics and lived experiences, hence minimal or no effect for some viewers and intense experiences for others in relation to the same stimulus. Sensual experiences are for me also heightened according the way in which the image is presented. For example, in Unseen Amsterdam 2017 I was drawn to and intrigued by forest landscapes stretched over shaped blocks of wood (Sylvie Bonnot, 2017), the puzzling wooden images of Theis Wendt (2017) and the sculptured landscape portrayals of Michel Le Belhomme (2017).

Sylvie Bonnot 2017
Theis Wendt 2017
Michel Le Belhomme 2017

3. Squires promotes the potential inclusion of more senses (sounds and touch as well as vision and emotion) as well as evidencing the position of the photographer showing something of their memory/lived experiences, their drive to give pleasure, to challenge the status quo, to tell a truth, improve skills/creativity, freeze a moment of personal/potential shared significance and secure and actualise commercial gain.
4. Light and colour, particularly in relation to actualising and enhancing the sensory experience when viewing an image/creation are important to me. Squires opinions are perhaps most likely to accord with mine in this respect.
Shore postulates about the ways in which technological advancements have enabled frozen and stilled moments in time, this being more in accord with Squires frozen moments than Szarkowski’s visual climax.
5. Time is the feature that binds all three viewpoints and mine. Placed on a time-line there is development synchronous with technological advances and social evolution. For me this is akin to developments in the art world where traditional ways of painting and sculpting diversified over time. The ‘old’ ways are still relevant and not negated by the more extreme or recent productions and I think this is true for the continuing experimentation, growth and diversification in photography.

This is a reflective work in progress and I can ‘see’ that I will have these various and overlapping translations of what is a photograph in mind as well as continuing to have urges to with increasing confidence challenge conventions when out and about taking images.

Bonnot, Sylvie. 2017. Mues. Available at: http://www.gupmagazine.com/portfolios/sylvie-bonnot/mues. [accessed 11-02-2018].

Le Belhomme, Michel. 2017. Les deux labyrinthes series, 2014-17. Available at: https://unseenamsterdam.com/photographers/michel-le-belhomme. [accessed 11-02-2017].

Shore, Stephen. 1998. The Nature of Photographs. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Squires, Carol (ed.). 2014. What is a Photograph? New York, International Centre of Photography.

Szarkowski, John. 1966. The Photographers Eye. New York, Museum of Modern Art.

Wendt, Theis. 2017. Cinnnamon. Available at: http://cxysjx.cn.www.unseenamsterdam.com/photographers/theis-wendt. [accessed 11-02-2017].

Informing Contexts Week 1 Photography: The Shape-shifter

Through my planned research project my name has become associated with rubbish over the past two modules, specifically debris found on beaches and other waterside locations. With Blue Planet II and government policies across the world highlighting the concerns and advocating remediating action now I find I am riding an ever-growing tsunami of photographic images and films. On the one hand there is, unfortunately, no end to subject matter to photograph while on the other it seems increasingly challenging to find a way to present my images that would merit a unique selling point.

I am delighted with the creatives talents evident in others depictions of rubbish and although I may have had similar ideas, I have not yet been able to or had the means to execute them. Mandy Barker http://mandy-barker.com and Andy Hughes http://www.andyhughes.net are two such artists who have made a great impression on me. I mean to continue with this project encouraged by the responses I am getting to my posts on Instagram and the places it is leading me to. I have already visited an incinerator and also plan to visit and photograph recycling at centres locally.

I am experimenting with ways of taking and presenting my images. Getting down low and making the piece of debris large against a landscape/seascape is my attempt to try out a viewpoint used by Andy Hughes. However I have not quite mastered the technique or visited a local electrical shop to purchase a battery operated lighting system (a step up from my torch I hope).

As some will know I was also in a little bit of a dilemma last module wondering whether to focus more on sea and landscapes, that is the settings in which debris is found. I feel that I am at an early stage in this area but hope that my portrayals are improving as I move through the course and develop greater confidence to experiment.

Whether Instagram responders and likes are in any way indicators of reasonable photography work I have found it interesting to see that two images in this category have apparently gained more ‘votes’ and comments than any of myrubbish ones! The first was of a sunset and while I like the clean lines and relative simplicity of the image I would have thought others would have dismissed it as another sunset/sunrise postcard image.

The second was a first outing to the beach with my new crystal ball. I had seen some images on line posted by others and wanted to try it out with rubbish but tried its with a moving seascape first. Taken on my iPhone I had not noted the breeze or predicted the shakiness of my hands holding it while being ready to jump to rescue the crystal if it rolled off its perch! Hence the strange effect of moving rock. See @sarahnewtonphotography on Instagram for version with movement and sound.

Production of tangible goods relating to both beach debris and seascapes resulted in a series of cushions, jute bags and flip flops bearing my images. Well received as gifts I have yet to see whether they are marketable. I hope to source more recyclable materials and investigate adding images to them, if possible, without the use of plastics.