Part 4 Project 3 Fictional Texts
Michael Colvin’s project ‘Rubber Flapper’ (Boothroyd and Roberts, 2015: 86) is a work of complete fiction. Colvin says of the process:
I like having the freedom to think up narratives that investigate an idea, an emotion, a point of view, and try to make work that expresses my thoughts and confusions. What I’m trying to say is not always fully realised, even to myself.
I love the planning involved. Buying and making props. Trying out compositions, roping friends and family in to help pose for my characters – just working through scenarios and seeing what works and what doesn’t (Boothroyd, 2015).
Less a complete work of fiction is Erica McDonald’s ‘The Laundry Sherpas of Brooklyn’ (Laurent, 2013; McDonald, s.d). McDonald’s practice has been described:
Seeing people carry their laundry through the streets in Brooklyn, McDonald was reminded of people in developing countries, who might have to walk for miles on foot to reach the bank of a river where they can wash their clothes [see fig. 1 and 2.].
McDonald first considered doing a traditional documentary piece about these Brooklyn ‘Sherpas’, talking to The New York Times about shooting it. Yet the photographer, who has been living in Brooklyn for more than eight years, wanted to use the people she photographed in a collaborative way, to emphasise the idea that they were wandering through a built-up area. In other words, she says, “I wanted them to participate in this story that came out of my imagination” (Laurent, 2013).
The similarity here with Michael Colvin’s work (above) is evident in that in both cases the story ‘came out of my imagination’ (above).
Christian Patterson’s book ‘Redheaded Peckerwood’ (Patterson, 2011): ‘which unerringly walks the fine line between fiction and nonfiction, is a disturbingly beautiful narrative about unfathomable violence and its place on the land’ (Luc Sante cited by Mack, s.d). Fifty years after a 20 year-old and his 14-year-old girlfriend went on a two-month killing spree that resulted in the deaths of 10 people Patterson followed their trail trail across the US states of Nebraska and into Wyoming:
his magpie eye picking out landscapes, buildings, woods, wastegrounds and darkly suggestive interiors. On the way, he visited the murder sites and the neighbourhoods of the killers and their victims, discovered personal letters and official documents pertaining to the case and trawled the archives of local papers such as the Lincoln Journal Star for first-hand accounts of the trial. He talked to police officers, local people, drifters and strangers he met in bars and coffee houses. The result is a unique photobook-cum-archive, a kind of impressionist visual narrative whose subtext is Patterson’s own obsession with the couple and their dark mythology …
“In Redheaded Peckerwood,” writes Luc Sante in his essay for the book, “Christian Patterson is working out something that hasn’t been done much before, if ever: a kind of subjective documentary photography of the historical past. That requires that the individual pictures be true, as close as possible to the physical details as historically established, while remaining ambiguous and unsettling …” (O’Hagan, 2011).
The Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel (b. 1975) says of her work ‘Life and Miracles of Paula P.’ (de Middel, 2009):
‘For me, the language of reportage is not enough when compared with everything I had experienced. It started with Paula P, a prostitute. I worked with her for three years, and it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t reduce it to just a reportage about her life – her story was much more complex’ (Laurent, 2013).
It has been remarked that:
One aspect de Middel couldn’t convey in her images was the judgment that other people have towards her and towards prostitution. “This is something you cannot add to an image, so I decided to take the book and change the narrative of the story by using verses from the Bible,” she [de Middel] says. De Middel also added images shot for other projects to convey the oppressive nature of other people’s views on her life. “Everything I used to tell her story is real, but by using this freedom in the approach, and by using images that didn’t belong to the project, I was telling a fuller story. I wasn’t misleading the readers, I was instead giving them more information. I was giving them a more complete experience of what I had to say. I was sharing more on so many different levels. That’s one thing photography can do when you know how to do it” (Laurent, 2013).
Thus, by adding images from other sources de Middel changed her project from a straightforward documentary — a ‘closed’ narrative (Boothroyd and Roberts, 2015: 88) — into an ‘open’ one which allowed for ambiguity in the narrative. Similarly, another de Middel’s project ‘The Afronauts’ (de Middel, 2012) revolves around the plan initiated in 1964 to send the first African astronauts into space:
De Middel set about her project in the manner of a filmmaker, blending fact and fiction. “I thought, I have a story and I need images to support that story. On one hand I had the real documents and on the other I had images I wanted to create. As I saw it there are key Nasa images that we are familiar with – the flag and the footsteps on the moon. I tried to translate these and give them an African spirit.”
As well as finding props such as helmets (she used a glass dome from an old street light), she also commissioned her 92-year-old grandmother to help her make the spacesuits and the textile covering the rocket. …
Alongside these new images, she placed images from her archive … and included a mixture of genuine and faked documents pertaining to the story. “I used an original press cutting, but changed Edward’s [Makuka Nkoloso, the founder and sole member of Zambia’s National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy] face. The letters are real letters I found on the internet, but I retyped them with an old typewriter. To make the story understood, I needed all these different parts” (Davies, 2014).
Joan Fontcuberta’s (b. 1995) book ‘Sputnik’ (Fontcuberta, 1997) created:
a narrative structure of material pulled from various sources. Through the documentary images that he aggregated and sequenced, Fontcuberta relayed the biography of an imaginary cosmonaut named Ivan Istochnikov, constructing a story that could very well be considered plausible because the (Western) audience had access to very little faactual information about the Soviet Union, let alone its sp[ace program. In actuality, the work, produced as an exhibition and a book, is a postmodern backdraft of the notion that photography is a purely transparent medium. It’s not exactly a lie, but its content is absolutely not ‘true’ according to the ethical standards of journalism (Vroons, 2017).
When asked why he would devise such an elaborate hoax, Fontcuberta relpied:
My model is Jorge Luis Borges [the Argentine writer behind many literary hoaxes]. The idea is to challenge disciplines that claim authority to represent the real – botany, topology, any scientific discourse, the media, even religion. I chose photography because it was a metaphor of power. When I started in the early 70s, photography was a charismatic medium providing evidence (Jeffries, 2014).
Boothroyd, S., 2015. Rubber Flapper. [Online] Available at: https://weareoca.com/subject/photography/rubber-flapper/ [Accessed 24 11 2017].
Boothroyd, S. & Roberts, Keith, 2015. Photography 1 Identity and Place. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.
Davies, L., 2014. Cristina de Middel: The Afronauts. [Online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/10882577/Cristina-de-Middel-The-Afronauts.html [Accessed 25 11 2017].
de Middel, C., 2009. Vida y Milagros de Paula P. Alicante: Museo de la Universidad de Alicante.
de Middel, C., 2012. The Afronauts. Self-published
Fontcuberta, J., 1997. Sputnik. Santa Fe: Photo Eye Books .
Jeffries, S., 2014. Joan Fontcuberta: false negatives. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jul/08/joan-fontcuberta-stranger-than-fiction [Accessed 24 11 2017].
Laurent, O., 2013. Stranger than fiction: Should documentary photographers add fiction to reality?. [Online] Available at: http://www.bjp-online.com/2013/08/stranger-than-fiction-should-documentary-photographers-add-fiction-to-reality/#closeContactFormCust00 [Accessed 24 11 2017].
Mack, s.d. Christian Patterson Redheaded Peckerwood. [Online] Available at: http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/15-Redheaded-Peckerwood.html [Accessed 24 11 2017].
McDonald, E., s.d. The Laundry Sherpas of Brooklyn. [Online] Available at: http://www.ericamcdonaldphoto.com/new–the-laundry-sherpas-of-brooklyn/Sherpa_web_McDonald_Erica_001s/ [Accessed 24 11 2017].
O’Hagan, S., 2011. Christian Patterson goes on the trail of America’s natural born killers. [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/dec/01/christian-patterson-photos-redheaded-peckerwood [Accessed 24 11 2017].
Patterson, C., 2011. Redheaded Peckerwood. London: MACK.
Vroons, E., 2017. Steamy Windows and Distorted Rearviews: How Photographic Images Can Function In Artist Books. GUP, Issue 52, pp. 37-51.
Figure 1. McDonald, E., s.d. Mountain Sherpa. [Online] Available at: http://cdn.lightgalleries.net/4bd5ebf454918/images/Sherpa_web_McDonald_Erica_002s-1.jpg [Accessed 24 11 2017].
Figure 2. McDonald, E., s.d. Balancing Sherpa. [Online] Available at: http://cdn.lightgalleries.net/4bd5ebf454918/images/Sherpa_web_McDonald_Erica_013s-1.jpg [Accessed 24 11 2017].