I went to the medieval times for the first time this weekend and thought it would be a good opportunity to document something more interesting than my day to day experience.
Toward the end of the essay I also include a sort of micro narrative about the fight between these two knights because I believe that contributed greatly to the experience as a whole, it was the big set piece they wanted you to go home thinking about that capped off the whole show but I tried to keep it down to quick motion and an outcome because my goal with these photos was less to make a point and more to achieve the atmospheric and subjective feelings that I felt while I was there. My process for taking the photos was pretty slapdash: I just kind of hurriedly snapped photos of things that seemed interesting. I think this aided in some ways and hurt me in others.
For example I think the impulsive nature of my image collection helps connect these images to my own experience that I’m trying to communicate to you the reader. Especially in the earlier images my intention was to simply document the pageantry and the noise and the almost concert-like atmosphere to the arena. It was a blur of color and metal and sound that added to little excitement but a lot of interest and I think the images I collected do that justice and further I built it gradually into a narrative because throughout the course I’ve come to realize that’s what a Photo essay is. Its a narrative with often looser intent than say a hollywood film but its a narrative nonetheless that tries to get the viewer to relate and understand a subjective experience that would be otherwise hard to document.
My lack of planning and inexperience with the show also made it difficult to know when to document and when to enjoy what I was seeing, it was difficult to juggle and perhaps I should have simply prioritized documentation more. Furthermore the sporadic nature of this process made it so that I didn’t know the end goal of the project as I was taking the photos and as such there are gaps in the information.
Indeed one of the more interesting outcomes of this is the fight I included as it’s ending is constructed: the Red and Yellow Knight does not win the fight I make him appear to win. His victory pose with the crowd cheering all around him is from a separate moment in the show. I knowingly included that image to mislead my audience in order to have them assume he won to put a nicer cap on the essay.
At first I intended to correct this with a more honest image set but then I realized it’s much more interesting to leave it in and discuss it. Thanks to my background in film and sequential media (which interestingly is very very similar to photo essays) doing this was almost second nature to me and I cannot imagine how one would keep this process objective. It makes me wonder how much of what happened in righteous dopefiend is constructed. They have stories to go with all of their images and they claim very rigorous checks and balances to avoid outright fabrication and judgment but at the same time, I don’t know them. I’m taking their word on it, and while I’m perfectly sure that if I do enough digging I could quite soundly verify most happenings in the book, I know that I won’t try. And in fact almost nobody will. We already decided to trust the authors.
This is very interesting to me because the images aren’t in a vacuum, they’re subjective because we view them subjectively with our own preconceptions guided by the images themselves (and often the person who took and presented them). So when I say we trust the authors what I really mean is that we trust ourselves in a way that's astoundingly concrete for how subjective such perceptions are.
Royal mentioned in class that some of his first year students automatically assume a picture of two homeless kids with a gun is an image of criminals that are up to something harmful. He also mentioned that after being given the context of the image, that the kid insist the gun is for defence and that they’re on the run, some of them brush that off and assume their initial idea is correct.
Connecting Verbal and Visual
There’s a lot of power in an image, which is what I think Pink, Righteous dope fiend, and others are either explicitly or implicitly trying to communicate to the academic world.
Having now done two photo essays of differing constraints and read a bit more there’s certain things I’ve been kicking around in my head. I kind of already knew this stuff but it’s interesting to come at it from a brand new perspective and rediscover these concepts organically where I didnt expect to see them.
The first is that images are powerful. Extraordinarily powerful. Overwhelmingly powerful. And most of us, myself included, never really notice that unless we’re trying to. It forces a response from you and forces you to think certain things based on a complicated visual/emotional database that you’ve collected in your brain as a child to generate a meaning automatically without ever knowing that it happened. This is not instinctual, it is learned. We know this because there are studies on people who went blind due to injury early in childhood and now in their adult lives they’ve had these injuries corrected and their sight restored. Doing so was overwhelming and confusing for them and many, after adjusting, still use their canes to get around because they don’t have a developed sense of depth perception. But because of that we know this automated meaning is subjective and unique to each person. However, there are cultural and instinctive norms that can be called upon should one wish to guide an audience to perceive certain things in certain ways. Film and comics do this regularly.
Without a verbal or textual place to ground a group of images this is very hard to do much more than give a sense of atmosphere unless you get very very granular and specific about motion (and animation is a field where this is done quite often) and almost physically move an audience through a concrete narrative as it is happening. The less concrete your message, the less specific your imagery, the fuzzier the intent and the more control the audience is going to have like in my photo only essay. In fact the micro narrative of the fight in that essay is an example of getting more concrete and granular to control the reading more.
The verbal has a ton of roles in this kind of work, it can shape, control, guide, restrict, juxtapose, or inform the visual. Which is to say it provides deeper meaning and how much and how formal that meaning is will vary depending on the route you take. My layton gallery essay, for example was primarily verbal and controlled the meaning of the piece, augmented by the visual to provide impact or description. Because as stated the visual is powerful, it can be used sparingly and with heightened contrast to create lasting emotional or argumentative impact amongst a lot of text or it can move alongside that text filling in gaps that either element can’t do alone (comics do this extraordinarily well, but other examples include simply showing what you might otherwise need to lengthily describe.
Another example being the photo of a dead person, with accompanying text about who he was.
It’s not always effective though as the audience can be completely overwhelmed by the image regardless of what gets said. My favorite somewhat fun example of this is in Michael Bay’s Transformers.
Megan Fox’s character is often remembered in that film as arm candy, just a pretty face with no substance as a character but, amusingly, when you walk through her dialogue and actions, she’s the most concrete character in the film with the most agency and growth. But she’s filmed exclusively to accentuate sex appeal and the male gaze in general, so that’s all people tend to take away from her part in the movie. It could also be argued that her on-camera performance is less than charismatic or perhaps just less loud than the other characters and that this is also a contributing factor to this misremembering but the visual/verbal interplay is not divorced from these interpretations regardless.
I had a similar but less sexist experience to the above in the short film I recently wrote when the finished film was shown to me. It wasn't the male gaze this time but the visuals lacked the tension I had written into the scene creating a very different emotional experience.