Untitled, (2021) Shaun Mullins.
For my final assignment I had decided to explore ideas of the politics of self with masks as metaphor for the front that we all put up when with others. This front is a kind of guard that protects as well as projects. At the time of preparing and conducting this project the world has been in the middle of the worst flu epidemic since the Spanish flu of 1918-20 and wearing face masks has become the new norm when in public places. My first thought were to ask friends and family to wear a mask that I would provide and I would photograph them; but as a national lockdown was put in place by the Government this became impractical. My Tutor suggested to simply ask them to take selfies of themselves wearing a mask and even to try and get fellow students involved.
The benefit of this is to learn about how sometimes letting go of the control of a project can create interesting and unexpected results. My Tutor suggested that I do further research into this kind of practice and so I looked at Sophie Calle’s work, Take Care of Yourself (2007) and Shizuko Yokomizo’s, Stranger (1998-2000) as examples of how an artist has given over control of their idea to their subjects. I was nervous about doing this and it took two weeks for me to pluck up the courage and send out my requests. In fact it was an email from an organiser of a student group that I recently joined was the prompt that got me moving. An online group video meeting was being arranged and it was an invitation to take part, and so when I replied I included my request. I was pleased to get a very prompt reply expressing interest in helping and an offer to give me some time to talk about my project to the other members of the group. The resulting presentation that I gave during the video conference resulted in 15 students providing selfies. This was a both a great and a useful experience in handing control of an art project into the hands of others, as many unexpected result arose that made the project more fun and interesting. I quickly realised that my idea of paper-mache masks was impractical when using volunteers as providing them with the masks would be very problematic. However, by asking my volunteers to use what ever they had to hand would be more interesting, which I believe it has turned out to be.
On reading, The Self-Portrait a Cultural History, 2015, by James Hall, London: Thames & Hudson (Kindle Edition). I came across an interesting passage that I feel resonates with my project; the current events of the COVID 19 pandemic and how many people must be feeling.
…The use of masks now came to symbolise the alienating and repressive condition of modern society, with its superficiality, materialism and pressure to conform. Courbet, in a letter of 1854 to Alfrd Bruyas, famously said, ‘Behind this laughing mask of mine which you know, I conceal grief bitterness, and a sadness which clings to my heart like a vampire. In the society in which we live, it doesn’t take much to reach the void’. A similar point is made in Baudelaire’s ‘Le Masque” (1859), a poem included in Les Fleurs du mal. Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil (1888), insisted that, ‘every profound spirit needs a mask’… (Loc 3901) …’even more, around every profound spirit a mask is growing continually, owing to the constantly false, namely shallow, interpretation of every word, every step, every sign of life he gives’. (Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann, New York, 1968, #40, pp. 240-1) (Hall, 2015, Loc 3910).
In my Tutor’s feedback for Assignment 5, he suggested a list of books that I should read, some of which I have already read but there was half a dozen titles that I hadn’t come across, one of which was, The Cruel Radiance, 2012, by Susie Linfield, Chicago, University Press. There was several quotes that I made notes of for my blog, but this one I found particularly interesting and perhaps relevantly closer to my work in assignment six. The viewer must work to complete the photography by digging into what it suggests and endowing it with deeper insights: the photograph is the “moment where my language finishes and yours starts.” Every image, Peress has said, has four authors: the photographer, the camera, the viewer, and reality. But it is reality, he insists that “has a way of speaking the loudest’: that speaks, in fact, “with a vengeance.” (Linfield, 2012, P.238).
I purchased and read all on his list that I had not already got and read. Image Makers Image Takers, 2010, by Anne-Celine Jaeger, London: Thames & Hudson. Photography Today, 2014, by Mark Durden, London: Phaidon. 100 Ideas That Changed Photography, 2012, by Mary Warner Marien, London: King Publishing Ltd.
When putting together my photographs for assignment 6, I was inspired to create a collage when looking through The Polaroid Book, (2011) Edited by Steve Crist, Essay by Barbara Hitchcock, London: TASCHEN. This also gave me the idea for creating my broken-up selfie by looking at how several polaroid pictures were made to create a full picture (Crist, 2011, pp.100, 114, and 129).
For my fragmented image, I used my passport studio setup (A Passport Selfie) and from the resulting photographs I chose one picture and made seven copies in Lightroom. Editing them in Photoshop I reducing each image to just a fragment with a boarder and then I created a new image and using layers I created this new image with the seven re-cropped images and arranged as if laid over each other, like so many Polaroids.
I had an idea to create an interactive collage which when a mouse hovered over a particular picture that picture would expand to a better view. However, I was unable to find out how I could achieve this, I both Googled for instructions, I asked my Tutor and even put out a request for help with my student group, but was unable to get an answer. Therefore, I decided to simply produce an ordinary collage with a slide-show underneath in my Assignment 6 blog. However, I have kept the original Photoshop file as a PSD, which is made up of separate layers for each picture, turned to ‘smart objects’ (if this might help). I do not have enough experience with Photoshop, and at present I am still very ignorant regarding this software and what a ‘smart object’ can and can not do. If however, I can solve this problem in the future, I still have the original file with all the layers.
Since completing my assignment I re-discovered and read a good book that I purchased from my charity book shop just before the beginning of the pandemic. Picture This How Pictures Work, 2000, Molly Bang, San Francisco: Chronicle Books LLC. Although this book has very little relevance to my assignment, I feel that I should mention it in my learning summary as it offers valuable insight into the rules and art of composition by stripping it down to the bare elements. Lessons, I hope that will be useful for the future.
My Tutor suggested that my final project / assignment 6 could possibly be continued through Instagram. When I looked into this I found that Instagram is a smart phone web platform and I could not add my photos to it from my I-Mac and I do not have a smart phone. However, I found a website that provided a ‘workaround’ to trick Instagram into believing that my Mac is a smart phone and so was able to add the images to my new Instagram account. I will have to wait and see if I can receive masked selfies from other Instagram users. How to post to Instagram from a Mac.
Layla Sailor – Instagram, Photography A Very Short Introduction, Portraits using masks by some influential photographic artists. The Complete Guide to Light & Lighting in Digital Photography The Nude Figure A Visual reference for the Artist A Haiku portraiture to Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox
Additional unrelated Reading and Research
Alexander Mackendrick On Film-making, edited by Paul Cronin, 2004, London, Faber & Faber.
Man Ray, Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais, Katherine Ware, (2004) Ed. Manfred Heiting, London: TASCHEN. ISBN: 9-783822-834831.
Henri Cartier-Bresson Europeans, 2001, Edited by Jean Clair, London: Thames & Hudson, ISBN: 0-500-28122-X.
Voici Paris Modernite’s Photographiques, 1920 – 1950 (2012) Edited by Quentin Bejac and Clement Cheroux, Paris: Centre Pompidou. ISBN: 978-2-84426-584-5.