We are asked to consider the work of three photographers:
- Jodie Taylor – “Memories of Childhood”
- Dewald Botha – “Ring Road”
- Peter Mansell – “Check up”
This is work by OCA students which, instead of making literal, representational photographs to convey a story uses visual metaphor, whereby alternative image contents are employed to convey a more subtle message.
The critique by ‘Sharon’ of Jodie Taylor’s work on the OCA website makes a number of favourable observations; choosing to originate the work on 35mm colour film and presenting the final piece as mail-in processed prints in an inexpensive plastic sleeved album is considered redolent of the times she looks back on, her childhood in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties. The colour palette is praised as “aesthetically pleasing” and Sharon says she finds the photographs evocative of her own childhood locations.
I don’t know how much contextualising text appeared with Jodie’s submission but I feel that it must have contributed in large measure to the overall message of the work. The photographs themselves are noticeably mute on the subject of childhood save for the graffiti on the walls and garage doors. The images are broadly ambiguous, though to be fair I have only seen the three shown on the OCA site. In a series like this, the photographs would have a hard time summoning a general consensus about their purpose.
But as a photo-essay, a ‘textual-visual’ presentation, the two images and writing support each other to allow the viewer to overlay their own version of adolescence. The photographs are sufficiently non-specific to allow any viewer who grew up in a similar urban environment, to re-live similar experiences. If the photographs were too specific they would tend to exclude the viewer – for example if they showed town signage or other location specific text.
The website for Dewald Botha isn’t working as I write this but Wayback Machine has some archived snapshots of the site, from which I learn that this work was the result of an initial interest in the actual structure of the ring road which changed over the year Botha walked the perimeter into “an exploration as metaphor for distance placed and personal limits reached within the confines of language and local culture” (Botha: 2012)
This feels like an intensely personal work and without further elaboration I just have to take his word for it. Although the images themselves look like snapshots, taken as a whole they convey a sense of a stark urban environment which is occasionally relieved by municipal flowerbeds, mildly interesting symmetries in the structures of the road and some rather incongruous palm trees. The unavailability of the supporting text emphasises the lack of voice in the images themselves.
Peter Mansell has used himself as the subject of “Check Up”, or rather his personal experiences as a paraplegic. In times when he has been limited in his ability to extend his photographic ‘reach’ physically, he has looked to his immediate surroundings and drawn out personal significance to “offer me the chance to make a particular statement about my experience”
For the viewer there is more to work with here as the contents of the images speak a little more clearly than in Botha’s work. As with Bryony Campbell’s “Dad Project” we are shown the plain unadorned facts of hospital interiors but unlike Campbell, Mansell is absent from the frame. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to track more of this work down – the ‘full interview’ promised in the Appendix of the course manual is missing and the link to the OCA site is missing the video.
Botha, Dewald: Ring Road 2012-2013 Ring Road – Dewald. http://www.dewaldbotha.net/ring-road.html (accessed August 14, 2017).