Jody: I would like to discuss your recent article in the Black and White Photography magazine titled ‘Reflective Practice’.
These questions are a form of reflective practice directed to you so I can see how another reflective practitioner’s methods may marry with my own.
Making what once was invisible visible. Do you think reflecting on your work brings out the visible from your mind? Using the camera as a mental x-ray?
Vicki: I have never thought about it in such a specific way but it’s an interesting question. I have been using a camera for years to ‘make visible’ thoughts and feelings but also to observe what is around me, there may be less intention for these ‘external’ shots but they also form part of the overall unconscious process, there is always a reason why I have taken the picture, even if its not immediately apparent, but it may take time to reveal itself to me, and to form a link with the other work when it can become part of the overall story.
Is the end result a culmination of reflection and all of the thoughts and ideas? Do you think this makes the finished work stronger?
I guess others have to judge that.
Does the image become a mass of unconscious and conscious thoughts and actions for you? Or is it just an image? How do you portray this through your work with an audience in mind? Is audience important to you? –
Yes, you have summed it up there very nicely with all three I have taken this bit below from my ‘critical’ to answer the audience part
“Because I chose to make this a public project, it must speak beyond the particular. Yet I do risk starting from this personal punctum, to evoke an emotional response in the viewer who will not share the precise details of the story”
Rosy Martin 1999
These words by Rosy Martin from an essay about her project: Too close to home? Precisely sums up the dilemma that I have faced whilst working on my own personal project.
Namely, the problem of defining an audience. The confessional has never been my style and I do not always want the viewer to know all of the details of my story. Yet the work must ‘speak beyond the particular’ allowing others to project their own interpretations and meanings onto it. It has to go into the world, and on reflection, I think that apart from anything else this release could in some way be cathartic.
I take photos sometimes not even realising what I am doing or seeing… I like to leave a gap of time to view them and then I become flooded with the meanings of that moment and how I am dealing with my mind.
Do you think others can read what you have reflected on during the process of producing a finished concluded piece of work? Does this bother you if not? Particularly those who aren’t knowledgeable in the process or even photography?
What you have reflected on?......... All those hours of thinking and re-thinking?..... That seems like a big ask to me. Some people see the finished work and might ask questions as to why you chose your subject? or how you went about achieving it? some, who are on the same wavelength may guess at what you have been through to arrive at that point, but I wouldn’t expect it, nor would it bother me if this isn’t the case…..That said….. an analogy might be a bit like in maths, when you have to show your workings out, I can’t remember a single maths teacher who would let me get away with not showing how I arrived at the answer, (which I would get by asking Kim Pearce, I was crap at maths ) Or any empirical approach where you have to work through a set process to test your hypothesis. Maybe we should be showing our reflective ‘workings out’ too? … as you have done with your journals. The whole practice as research thing.
I think the medium that that the work is produced in is also important here. The book offers more scope to show this and in my personal opinion is better suited, as the reader can take their time, as opposed to standing in front of a set of images, with books they can dip in and out of the work, and start at any point, a book is of course generally more accommodating of text which also allows for further insight into the process.
What is most important to you, the peace and understanding the work may give you or the impact on the viewer?
So you are asking about the therapeutic role of the work?....... I like to ask questions about things that have impacted on me and find answers. I am fully aware, or I think I am, but of course if we are going to go all Freudian I never can be truly aware as to how past events have influenced my choice of subjects. I would say that there is a definite forensic element to my work, I am pretty relentless in looking for answers,. I always make the work for me, so it may be a way of self-medicating but then if I am doing a personal project to show to others then I feel the work has to have a wider relevance. ( see audience answer above)
Is an artists’ statement important to you with regards to the viewing the work or do you agree that it is what a viewer takes away from the experience of viewing the photograph?
Oh God…. the artist’s statement…. What a can of worms. Generally, I like a bit of writing, words and images are natural bedfellows as far as I’m concerned, but sometimes it can all go horribly wrong, however a short simple piece to draw people into the work can be useful, it mustn’t override though. I don’t think it should be compulsory, as some people say it better with pictures.
Reflective practice can be time consuming especially if it’s not before becoming habitual. What do you feel the benefits of such a practice are regarding your photography?
Provides a space to see your mistakes, what works what doesn’t, how you might move forward or go in a completely different direction. Looking at the repressive portraits I made of my father to highlight the difficult father/daughter relationship through the prism of dementia, I feel that I have put a line under that aspect and can move the work in a new direction. Having not looked at it for a few months, I can see different things in the work and might now question why I made the decisions I did at the time, further research and editing has provided another chapter!
Do you use reflective practice in other areas of your life?
Yes, as a way of examining my actions in all areas of life, trying to step back and think of different approaches to different situations.
In your article in b and w magazine you talk about the x-ray being a way of seeing through, even to thoughts and feelings and of privacy. Don’t you think that all manner of the photograph speaks of thoughts and feelings in some way?
Of course, but there is still an opacity to the photograph. The X-ray literally seemed to shine a light right through everything, but as a visual representation is not produced from visual experience or observation and science which up to this point had used the camera as an equivalent to the human eye to produce a document backing up its authority, was now challenged by this new technology. For the Victorians, the power to ‘see’ inside them was also taken to mean that this machine could also see their thoughts. It’s interesting that you have included your x-ray as I interpreted it in this way! is a reflection on a part of the self in my opinion. I am at the extreme end and screaming for my own understanding under a naked eye.
You also talk about the past and the present in ‘not the world as it is but as it makes sense’. and the importance of photography to this. Do you think the photograph becomes present or changes its values over time and viewing? Does the past, present and future become an interlocking cycle like the reflective cycle? One of my favourite topics….. in that photos are dynamic and involve all the senses not just vision, they move around in space and time (particularly true of family photos). The pic of my father was a set of passport photos and were the last photos taken of him, which I made ‘re-perform’ and in doing so I can now see was a way of keeping him alive.
The photographs in the clinic are very emotive I’m intrigued to know how much of yourself and time you took in the space and eventually with a finished photograph?
Actually, it was very hurried. They were taken in the multi faith room of the hospital while I was waiting for my scan. I got there early so had 10 minutes whilst hubby stood guard. It was a strange space very cold but a heavy atmosphere of sadness I suppose. Someone had left a tissue on the seat which was my main focus the blend of the physical material and emotion intertwined. I took about 10 shots in total.
I use photography to make the invisible visible (as with my ‘titanium’ image from trigger warning). www.jodypowell.co.uk Unconscious and conscious thoughts visible to the human eye. Moments of my mind and life visible to all. In fact an opposite to that of the likes of social media profile including my own! I choose my own narrative to explain to myself what is actually happening through the cloud and fog of medication and alcohol.
Many people are reflective practitioners without realising but with a methodology and structure it can be very rewarding. Personally I feel a little isolated practicing this way but I am dedicated to this way of life now. I was an unstructured non functioning human being. Now I have structures and foundations so I always have somewhere to land and rebuild from. I still have some of the same issues but I deal with them differently. For example I am photographing every drink I have and forming a calendar… I am hoping to reflect on the result of actually seeing the reality of the situation. So in these ways reflective practice is fixing me emotionally, physically and the camera is my tool for doing so.