PicBod- Combining Imagery and Text

After talking to Matt, I had a clearer vision of where I was heading with my final body of work; I want to combine the use of text from my online conversations with imagery that looked at the themes of truth and deception, therefore the whole body of work would address this idea of the online Chatroom and digital world, questioning the truth and deception that arises from this world. To begin my research into existing work, I decided to first focus on the idea of combining text and imagery; as a photographer myself I have only ever used small amounts of text combined with my photographic work, as small bits of context; whereas in this body of work I want the text and imagery to combine to give a true idea around the ideas of the online world and deception.

Text can change the way you read an image or body of work, for example, ‘the caption accompanying a picture, we are able to extract information useful in (i) retrieving the picture and (ii) directing an image interpretation system to identify relevant objects (in this case, faces) in the picture.’ (Srihari, R.K. 1995) And so it is important to consider my use of text and imagery when making a whole body of work.

I first looked at an exhibition from 2004, that showcased a range of photographers work who all combined imagery and text; the exhibitions themes were around this idea of combining the two mediums while also looking at the idea of conversation, therefore I felt this was a very relevant source to look at with regards to my own work. The exhibition, Conversations: Text and Image, showcases a range of work from the photographers Walker Evans, Jim Goldberg, Gary Hill, Lewis Koch, Martha Rosler, Matt Siber, Lorna Simpson and Jeff Wolin; the ‘exhibition is intended as a quick fifty year review of the practice of combining written text and image.’

It was William Blake, an eighteenth century British poet, who published books of his writing with his own illustrations, showing and learning how the combination of text and imagery can evoke meaning beyond the meanings of one single medium. Moving forward in time it was then the Dadaists and Surrealists, in the early twentieth century, that combined fragments of found text with appropriated photographic images to open alternative, sometimes irrational, paths of communication they felt were missing from straight art.

Walker Evans created work that combined text and image to form a collage by including advertising signs, often fragmented, in his photographs; ‘he purposefully explored both the formal and conceptual implications of placing text and image together. First, the advertising signs and other extraneous words in his prints force awareness of the limitations of the photograph.’…’Second, since we know that the words are a code, we have an opportunity to transfer what we know about reading codes to the photographic image. Evans created complicated arenas in which our attention caroms from verbal to visual and back, making us aware that both are describers of and not substitutes for experience or knowledge.’

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Martha Rosler produced the project seen in this exhibition, The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems. The body looks at the idea of poverty in a different way, by refusing the style of documentary or journalistic portraiture often used when photographing poverty, Rosler concentrates instead on the evidence of an absence: empty liquor bottles etc. Along side these photographs Rosler combines a lists of synonyms for drunkenness or drunks and the words “dead soldiers, dead marines.” As her title suggests, she was interested in theoretical issues concerning photography as a supplier of truth, but she also looked at and was more concerned with the practical matter of distorting or ignoring social truths.

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‘Placing words and images in the same perceptual space is not as easy as it looks. The artist has to keep track of four phenomena, not just the apparent two. First, the words have accepted, coded meanings and contexts that affect what we see in the adjacent images. Second, the words invoke mental images that might also conflict with what we see. Third, images have meanings and contexts that may alter our engagement with the adjacent words. Fourth, images can call up words in the mind of the viewer. The coordination of image/word/word/image is not easy, but the more difficult it is, the more possibilities present themselves for qualifying or clarifying the larger world.’

The quote from the exhibition information really stood out to me and made me consider my own practise when it comes to combining text and imagery; I will consider all four points when it comes to making my decision for my final body of work, to make sure it is as strong as it can be.

Looking back into some of the photographerswork from the exhibition; Jeff Wolin could be seen as invading or maybe even violating the photographic pieces by writing extensive commentary over images of his family and other evidence of his life experience. This comes as a shock to viewers as photographs are often seen as things you ‘hold carefully’ and ‘must not get finger prints on’, where as Wolin completely destroys this idea and could be seen as shattering our confidence in the power of the photograph to communicate by itself. Wolin does preserve some of the photography, by not writing over the bodies of his subjects he allows enough of the image to be seen, this combined with the personal text creates a very unique and personal experience with the imagery, the viewers could feel as though they are ‘prying’ into the personal thoughts and life of Wolin,showing how text can completely change the way we read an image.

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In his project on photography and memory, derived from an extended stay in northern India, Notes from the Stone-Paved Path, Lewis Kotch combines text and imagery by placing carefully selected pages from somebody else’s text next to his own photographs. His images try to reflect some of his views of the complex country of India, while he also allows some control to the viewer, allowing them to imagine about the place and to get lost in this world.

L Koch, eye-text, pairThe power of Lorna Simpson’s work is from her ability to place powerful words and powerful pictures together. Aware of the loss of textual meaning in most of American culture, she pulls words from areas where they still have strength for better or worse—race and sex. With her work, unlike the work of Kotch as seen above, Simpson remains in control of her work, choosing words to complete and compliment the image that they sit next to.

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Matt Siber extends Evans’ idea by reminding us of the pervasive image/text stream that we witness every day. By removing the text from an entire photographic image and placing it to one side, Siber forces us to again consider Evans’ point about differential “reading.” Cleansing the advertisements of their text makes us aware of how the photographs in them work, and how clever the ad designers are at manipulating our “reading.” Even though the work is technically combining text and imagery, it is doing it in an unusual way by making us consider texts that we would often see and just ignore in life and photography.

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The video and installation works of Gary Hill have combine his own writings and others’ texts to explore our confidence in this extension of the still photograph. In Mediations (toward a remake of Soundings) 79/86 he takes this genre to another level with a video image of a speaker being filled with sand while it tries to speak. The muffled words we hear—Hill’s own writing—are recorded coming from the increasingly dysfunctional speaker. In this piece the hands of the artist himself manipulate and distort our access to words he presumably needs us to hear. The image we see extends the meaning of his text, but it also creates a visual analog for the value of indirection and distraction in art.

All the artists in this exhibition look at the theme of text and imagery in a different way, each with their own unique combination of text and imagery. Even though none of the work is directly linked to my body of work, looking at the themes of online chatrooms and truth and deception, I can still be influenced by the different ways I could combine the text from my conversations with imagery. Also when it comes to deciding my final layout and presentation method for my work, I could revisit this exhibition and look at how they set out the different artistswork.

I also looked at the work of David Rule who works with text and imagery,often to extend anecdotes and personal encounters, shifting freely between the observational and the speculative, his work aims to challenge our contextual and visual formats of perception. Rule’s work is very unusual and looks at a range of different subjects, showing them in a variety of ways. I personally would describe the work as very abstract; this abstract approach can be seen on his website, the layout is very random and shows a timeline style of Rule’s work.

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Even though Rule’s work is not the same as my own, I feel it is good to look at different artists that combine text and imagery to see how they work and possibly to also influence my own work.

After looking at a range of different works that combine imagery and text, I now have a greater idea of some of the possible avenues I could take with my own work. I will develop this further by finalising my photographic work first, then I can begin to work out how I want to combine my imagery and text, I plan to take influence from the work I have looked at but at the same time I want to make my work original and creative.

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