IAP A4: reflection after tutor feedback

Once again my tutor provided extremely helpful feedback, which encouraged me to make a new edit with a revised emphasis of perspective. My original focus had been on the diverse character of my local area’s businesses and inhabitants, and while I had mentioned the sense that the images have of an unknowable future and had considered including a reference to the subsequent arrival of covid-19 and lockdown in my title, I had ultimately omitted this perspective from the edit I submitted for tutor feedback. The feedback I received from my tutor encouraged me to revisit this aspect, and I revised the overall perspective to focus directly on the approaching virus – which in fact was already present but as yet not fully recognised, acknowledged or understood, all the images having been shot between 10 January and 20 March.

Having adopted this different emphasis, I found the task of editing the 24 images I had submitted for feedback down to the 7 to 10 required in the assignment brief considerably easier, since I no longer felt the need to try and cover as many different “types” of business and inhabitant as possible to avoid losing the essential character of the area – which was the difficulty I’d faced in my first edit. This time I was looking for those that spoke most strongly to the new narrative of the impending epidemic.

The new perspective also gave me a starting point for including the brief’s requirement to accompany the images with text. I had previously noted the obvious parallels with the period of emerging recognition of plague in Camus’s novel, and had gone as far as obtaining a copy and looking for appropriate passages of text. But with my previous 28-image edit the task was impossibly unwieldy. Now it fell quite easily into place, and after I’d selected the most relevant snippets of text I immediately found resonances between each of the passages and individual images in my new edit, which can be viewed here.
– The first image, for example, includes a shadowy and foreboding figure in the right foreground, which is almost completely imperceptible on screen and which I only first spotted when I printed the image out. I decided to lighten this area of the image to make the figure more visible on screen and allow it to become a motif or augur for the impending virus. It wasn’t until I did this that I noticed that the words County Hospital were also now visible on the building behind him, which acts as a relay in Barthes’ (1987) terms, reinforcing the reference to fever in the first accompanying text snippet.
– In its new context, the second image’s Pizza Face signage becomes a gruesome reminder that the term is often used to denote someone with spots or pustules, and in the accompanying text snippet the suppurating abscesses of plague are graphically described.
– Image 3, of a barber at work with a client, is a reminder that the Royal College of Surgeons started life in the 16th century as the Worshipful Company of Barber Surgeons, and that barbers were in fact the first surgeons, due merely to their ownership of the sharpest implements available. The accompanying text snippet describes the process of lancing the plague pustules.
– Image 4 counterpoints a woman lit by a homely glow in a domestic-style environment (albeit actually a dual-purpose cafe and antiques shop) with a man in a dark and bleak-looking street, while the text snippet discusses the different way events are reported in the home and the street.
– Image 5 has a sense of assessing, judging, and perhaps arriving at an awkward conclusion, while the text snippet covers the same processes as they take place at municipal and individual levels.
– Now accompanied by a text snippet describing the dawning realisation of epidemic, the hands on the subject’s head in image 6 become suggestive of puzzlement or dismay.
– Image 7 captures people in conversation, reflecting the text snippet which is a dialogue passage illustrating the ways that denial of the epidemic turned into reluctant acknowledgement.
– Image 8 is another barbershop, where the kind of chit-chat in the accompanying text snippet often takes place. The image is also infused with patches of blue, resonating with the reference in the text to the dull-sheened blue sky.
– Image 9 shows Everyman, aka the man in the street, the man on the Clapham omnibus and literally here the man in the pub, going about his business as if the world will always be stable and predictable, while the text snippet describes this specific denial-prone mindset. This image was shot on 20 March, about two hours after the lockdown was announced.

However, when I stood back and looked at this revised presentation I found that the text completely overwhelmed the images, closing down their scope of interpretation and directing it too crudely in a direction that was not adequately supported by the main narrative thrust of the images.

I decided to try another approach. This time I picked out an element in each image that, while not central to the main narrative of the scene, seemed to me to be important in conveying some of the feeling of hidden histories and futures. Somewhat similar to Barthes’ idea of a punctum, these elements trigger emotional responses in me that are both highly subjective and outweigh their apparent significance to the image. I used these elements as labels for the images, and found that they offered supplementary interpretations of the images without closing down or obscuring the main narrative in the way that the Camus snippets had done.

References and resources

Barthes, R. (1987) Image Music Text. London: Fontana.