Seen/believed: a practice-based study of depiction within the photograph

Mahon, M (2021) Seen/believed: a practice-based study of depiction within the photograph. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.

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This practice-based study with accompanying body of work, addresses the question of how recognition and illusion, as well as viewers’ expectations, influence the reading of a photograph. It arose from Barthes’ comment about the ‘real unreality’ of the photograph, interpreted as expressing the conundrum that while the contemporary photograph may be an object or on screen, what it illustrates is not wholly accurate to what was once in front of the lens. (Barthes, 1977, p. 44). The study is explained in this document, outlining the trajectory and rationale behind the research, it describes all the studio work and notes contextual links to related works by other artists. The studio work, particularly those pieces presented at exhibition, are at the heart of the project. They are the visual enactment, the resolution and the new knowledge integral to the enquiry. The study investigated the question of what is seen/believed within the contemporary photograph, used within art practice, accepting that this may be on screen or paper. The topic was subdivided into an enquiry of the assumptions surrounding the accuracy of a photograph, the implications of staging within the photograph and the phenomenology of the paper photograph. Throughout there was an emphasis on first-hand research and critical reflection, annotated in sketch books. Relevant theoretical texts, which became interrelated objects of thinking, were by Roland Barthes, Lucy Soutter and David Campany, amongst others. Initially the studio practice engaged with given strategies and tactics used by established 20th / 21st century practitioners, notably James Casebere and Thomas Demand because of their use of models specifically made to photograph. Early works made during the study were ‘in the style of..’, progressing to works using deliberate staging, resulting in finished pieces with photographs and objects. The study also includes extended experimentation with early process photography, notably cyanotypes, to extend ideas of phenomenology. The studio work, in particular "The Mugshots" (2018), as well as first-hand research, demonstrated that contemporaneously the notion of what might constitute a photograph has been embellished and eroded. The author discusses the personal credibility of the photograph as object, suggesting that this lingers from the analogue, endowing a form of tacit knowledge. The study observes that definitions of the photograph are no longer adequate. Perhaps 'photographic' as an adjective is preferable to 'photograph' as a noun. Therefore, as well as questioning the actual compared to what is presented within a photograph, the study became concerned with finding a more appropriate definition of what constitutes a photograph. The author concludes that a photograph exists on paper or a screen and is made by the reaction of light emitted from an object, onto chemicals or a processor. The insistence on ‘light emitted from an object’ makes it different to an image, which may appear to be a photograph. The concluding work in the study "Follow Me Lights" (2020) holds the findings and excitement of the whole study as well as the physical enactment of the new knowledge. By examining the camera’s response to the phenomenon of light, and the happenstance of a fault in the camera’s processor, it shows a smudge (analogue) beside visible pixels (digital). The work disrupts all ideas of true/real/ accurate because of the introduction of contradiction and uncertainty. The conclusion is that the viewer reads what is presented dependant on context and their own expectation. The study has come full circle and the photograph remains enigmatic, echoing Barthes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: PhD by Practice, art object, analogue photography, digital photography, cyanotypes, studio practice, Roland Barthes, Lucy Soutter, David Campany, James Casebere, Thomas Demand
Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
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Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2021 17:14
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2024 18:37
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