Informing Contexts, Week 6 - A Sea of Images

In this week’s presentation, National Geographic: Representing, Re-Presenting, Reproducing, we were invited to analyze the imagery of National Geographic and consider the ways in which the magazine has reproduced or recycled myths and stereotypes about non-western cultures. National Geographic has been widely criticized for this, and coincidentally, this point has recently been addressed by the magazine’s editor Susan Goldberg. In a special issue of the magazine released this month, (The Race Issue) Goldman states ‘For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It’. 

The focus of both the lecture, and Goldman’s article, was National Geographic’s representation of non-western countries, so I was interested to see how the U.S. had been portrayed by the magazine over the years. Had America also been subject to bias representation? I suspected that America would be portrayed in an exceptionally positive light, particularly in the early years of the publication. Looking at Taschen’s book, The United States of America with National Geographic, my initial assumptions seem to be correct. Even the way that the book is advertised seems overly patriotic - A glossy image of a fruit stand abundant with peaches, another of girls in cotton dresses climbing a white picket fence, are displayed proudly upon the star spangled banner. 

However, this positive patriotism seems to have waned over the years. According to a BBC Culture review of the book -

‘By the end of the 1960s, the magazine’s unabashedly positive approach was beginning to show cracks. “By the early 1970s, American culture had shifted under the influence of nearly three decades of postwar economic prosperity, the rise of mass media, social unrest surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the rise of counter-culture,” writes Walker in the new book’s essay. “Domestic travel was less of a novelty, and Americans were better informed than they had once been.’  (Macdonald, 2016)

Looking at National Geographic today, It seems that they are making a conscious effort to provide a broader, more authentic image of America. The release of The Race Issue is perhaps a response to the pressure that has been placed upon the publication to more accurately portray the diversity of the country. 

I was interested to see the work of photographer Peter van Agtmael showcased on The National Geographic website, as his work is quite unlike the imagery I associate with the magazine. I find Agtmael’s series Buzzing at the Sill to be incredibly impactful in it’s raw, complex representation of America. The project is incredibly diverse in its subject matter, and therefore does not seem to make generalizations about any one group of people. 

The images themselves are also quite ambiguous, which disallows us from making hard and fast judgements - All very unlike the National Geographic images of the past. Applying these ideas to my own practice, I think I would benefit from diversifying my subject matter, as doing this may help me to avoid making generalizations about Americans living in rural areas.


Goldberg, S. 2018. National Geographic: For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It. [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from:

Keefe, A. 2017. The Fractured States of America. [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from:

Macdonald, F. 2016. The Images that helped define America [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from:

Van Agtmael, P. 2017. Buzzing at the Sill. [Online]. [Accessed 10 March 2018]. Available from:

Informing Contexts, Week 5 - Gazing at Photographs

This week we have been discussing voyeurism in photography and I have grown interest in the use of this term when considering images which are not of a sexual nature. In Train Your Gaze, Roswell Angier posits that voyeurism is not necessarily about sex, but is about the a separation between the seer and seen.

The basic condition of the voyeuristic scenario is distance, an essential separation between seer and seen. Despite this distance, which by definition is unbridgeable, despite the un-requite-able nature of the desire that drives it, the voyeur’s gaze is a privileged one. (Angier, 2007, p.61) 

Currently, I am creating work in communities which are not my own, and I gain pleasure from viewing the lives of others, which are so different from mine. I would consider this to be voyeuristic in nature. In the past, I have made work as an outsider, looking in, and have attempted to convey this ‘otherness’ in my images. For example, in my series Distance, I intentionally aimed to illustrate the emotional and physical separation I felt from my surroundings when living in Japan. With my current work however, I am aiming to bridge the gaps between myself and my subjects, building relationships with those I am photographing and a deeper familiarity with the landscape. In doing this, I believe that it makes my practice less voyeuristic, but I also understand that the relationship between the viewer of my photographs, and the subjects they depict, will not change. The viewer will remain as a voyeur.

As I create windows into communities of which I am not a native member, I feel a responsibility to represent them as fairly and accurately as I am able. There are many photographers who I look to as models for this. When photographer Stephan Vanfleteren spoke of the Belgian city of Charleroi, the subject of his series of the same name, he described it as “Love at First Sight” (Vanfleteren, 2015). His images are compassionate, and represent Charleroi, and it’s residents, with warmth and respect.

Photographer Lucas Foglia is another practitioner who has created in-depth series about marginalized communities. I look to him as an example of an artist who works seemingly harmoniously with a community which is not his own, gaining the trust of its residents and representing them in a positive light.

Whilst I cannot completely remove the element of voyeurism in my practice, or in the gaze of those who view my images, by approaching my work with an admiration for both the landscape and people I am photographing, I hope to create work which represents this region in a manner that both I, and my subjects, feel comfortable with. 


Angier, R. 2009. Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. [Kindle e-book]. New York: Fairchild Books.

Foglia, L. 2017. Photographer Lucas Foglia’s Website. [Online]. [Accessed 22 March 2018]. Available from:

Panos Pictures. 2015. Stephan Vanfleteren: Charleroi. [Online]. [Accessed 22 March 2018]. Available from:

Informing Contexts, Project Development - Stevenson WA

Last week I took a trip to Stevenson in Washington to view a potential shooting location for my project. Although my series focuses on Oregon, Stevenson is on the edge of the neighboring state, just minutes from the Oregon border. I was made aware of this location by a local film maker who is shooting here, and I was interested in photographing two abandoned properties that lay on the outskirts of the small town.  

I do not have plans to return to this location, but I gained some interesting images on this trip. As we explored one of the buildings, I also discovered a family album. As I intend to integrate found objects such as vernacular photos into my project, I am interested in photographing this and presenting it alongside images of my images of the abandoned house. Of course, I can’t be sure that those pictured in this album once lived here, but it is extremely tempting to believe so. I cannot help but begin to form a narrative about the family pictured living within this house, and wonder how it could have come to be the way that it is now. By presenting the photos of the house alongside this album, I invite my viewer to contemplate the same idea. 

Family Album Found at Abandoned House, Stevenson WA

Informing Contexts, Week 4 - Into the Image World

The most significant indexical power of the photograph may consequently not lie in the relation between the photograph and it’s subject but in the relation between the photograph and its beholder (p69. Olin, 2012)

In this statement, Margret Olin notes that the relationship between a photograph and it’s viewer may be more significant than the relationship between a photograph and the subject it depicts. All images are made up of signs, which the viewer decodes to create meaning. Therefore, every image has the potential to be read in numerous ways depending upon the individual viewer, or ‘decoder’. This is important for photographers to be conscious of, as the intended meaning of one’s work could be easily misconstrued.

Advertising images are loaded with ‘signs’ which are designed to trigger a desired reading from a target viewer or potential customer. As I am currently creating work in rural communities in America, I have become interested in the way that the American West is portrayed in popular culture, and looking at advertising campaigns which present the American west may help me to strengthen the intended reading of my own photographs. The Marlboro Man was a hugely successful advertising campaign for Marlboro cigarettes, which ran in the United States for over fifty years. A brief semiotic analysis of this advertisement allows us to identify a few of the key ‘signifiers’ and what may be ’signified’ by them.

  • Cowboy 

Signifies - American, America, Outside, The West, Masculinity, Mysterious, Independence 

  • Cigarette

Signifies - Recklessness, Rebelion, Addiction, 

  • Colour Red

Signifies - Anger, Passion, Boldness, Heat

  • The Word ‘Weekend’

Signifies - Freedom, Relaxation, Time, Enjoyment 

  • Marlboro Font

Signifies - Familiarity, Classic

  • Rope & Sadle 

Signifies - Manual Work, Ruggedness, Equestrian, Outside, Nature, Masculinity, Strength, Farming, Rodeo   

Although I know that this imagery is constructed, and is an unrealistic portrayal of Marlboro’s consumers, the advertisement is still successful as I assume that my reading of the image aligns with Marlboro’s intended meaning. I am also aware that this advertisement is targeted towards male consumers, but yet the meaning remains more or less the same for me. This is considered the ‘dominant’ reading. As there is the potential for multiple readings of any imagery, a different viewer may instead have an ‘oppositional’ or ‘negotiated’ reading of the same advertisement. For example, in some cultures, the cowboy character might not be seen as a hero, or as a representation of freedom, and the resulting reading would be very different. 

When looking at Marlboro advertisements, I thought of Richard Prince’s ‘rephotography’ of imagery from the same series of commercials. Looking at Princes Untitled (Cowboy), I find that I read Prince’s photograph in a very similar way to the advertisement above. I decode this image as - America, The West, Freedom, Masculinity, Nature etc. However, I also note an additional meaning - Marlboro. I have also shown this image to other people who are unaware of Prince’s work, who have the same response. This shows how impactful the original advertising campaign was, as divorced of any accompanying text, it still brings to mind the cigarette brand.  

Olin, M. 2012. Touching Photographs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Time Magazine. 100 Photos, Richard Prince Untitled (Cowboy) [Online]. [Accessed 20 February 2018] Available From:

Informing Contexts, Week 3 - Constructed Realities

Although we have already discussed how all photographs are constructions to some extent, this week, we have been analyzing images that are purposely fabricated or staged to a more extreme extent, and that intentionally challenge the viewer’s assumed authenticity of photography as a medium. These kinds of photographs create a push and pull effect for the viewer, as they sway between an understanding that all photographs have an indexical relationship with the real, but also the knowledge that this image has been drastically manipulated or constructed. 

At first glance, it is easy to mistake the images from Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Diorama series for wildlife photography, shot in an array of exotic locations. However, just as the name of the series suggests, these images all depict Dioramas located in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. What is interesting about this work, is how the photographs make the dioramas come to life. When viewed at the museum, the stuffed animals placed motionless in front of a painted backdrop, appear entirely fake. However, when reduced to a flat, still image, they become easily mistakable for the real thing. On this Sugimoto notes “However fake the subject, once photographed, it’s as good as real.” (Sugimoto in Coppelman, 2015)

Philip Lorca diCorcia also blurs the lines between reality and fiction in his series Hustlers, which depicts male prostitutes in L.A. in early 1990’s. To create this series, diCoria scouted locations, set up elaborate lighting, and meticulously planned out his images, before approaching male prostitutes to ask them to model for him. Each resulting image is titled with the man’s name, age, place of birth and the fee that diCorica paid him to pose for him, this cost being the same as their customary price for a sexual act. There is a definite filmic quality to these images - The scenes are illuminated like movie sets, and the poses and locations invite us to create a narrative surrounding these isolated moments. Whilst so much of these images is entirely fabricated by diCorica, we are simultaneously aware that the subjects themselves are real. The glamour and falseness of the Hollywood style production is juxtaposed with the gritty authenticity of the protagonist in each image.   

At no point do Sugimoto or diCorcia attempt to conceal the methods they used to construct the images above. In the creation of fine art photography, purposeful manipulation is often expect, and excepted. However, the following image, by photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin came under fire when it was initially published, as such fabrications are not permitted in the world of photojournalism. 

This image is included in Paolo Pellegrin’s The Cresent, a series documenting poverty, crime and violence in the Cresent neighborhood of Rochester, NY. The image was initially captioned ‘A former US Marine corp sniper with his weapon. Rochester, NY. USA 2012’, However, the subject in the image, Shane Keller, soon came out to dispute this description, claiming that he is not a former US Marines sniper, nor was the image taken in the Cresent neighborhood, and goes on to explain how the shot was constructed by the photographer. (Read in full here). At this time Shane Keller was actually a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, which was working in collaboration with Magnum to create this series, who was asked by Pellegrin to pose with his firearms in the garage of his apartment building. This intentional misrepresentation is considered unethical and unacceptable in the world of photojournalism. Although Pellegrin has since defended the accusations, and the caption has been changed, this case illustrates the importance that context plays in the viewers allowance of a photographer to construct images. 


Bicker, P. 2013. Trade: Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Hollywood Hustlers [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from:

Coppelman, A. 2015. Eerie yet gorgeous scenes make taxidermy spring to life [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from:

Shaw, M. 2013. When Reality Isn’t Dramatic Enough: Misrepresentation in a World Press and Picture of the Year Winning Photo.  [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from:

Sugimoto, H. 2017. Diorama. [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from:

Winslow, D. 2013. Paolo Pellegrin Responds To Claim Of Misrepresented Winning World Press, POYi Photos [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from:

World Press Photo. 2012. Paolo Pellegrin ‘The Cresent’ [Online]. [Accessed 15 February 2017]. Available from:

Informing Contexts, Week 2 - The Index and The Icon

Photography is fundamentally different from other art forms with regards to its relationship to representation and truth. Although a viewer is no longer likely to view Elsie Wright’s famous Cottingley Fairies, as genuine today, purely because it was presented to them in the form of a photograph, it is still commonplace to believe that a photography is tied to reality much more closely than other art forms, or to look through a photograph to the subject it depicts. There is a causal, indexical relationship between the subject in the photograph and the subject in real life. As Sontag writes, “A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened” (Sontag, 1977, P.5) and “A photograph is not only an image, it is a trace, something directly stenciled off the real.” (Sontag, 1977, P.154)

Morgon Ashcom plays with this ‘expected’ authenticity in his series What the Living Carry (2017), an early inspiration for my current project. In Ashcom’s work, we are presented with what appear to be carefully observed fine art documentary photographs of a rural, American town. Alongside theses images are letters addressed to Ashcom, a hand drawn map, and objects photographed out of context. The viewer is invited to imagine the significance of these artifacts, and one begins to draw connections between the different elements - putting names to the people and places depicted, and creating their own narrative. In reality however, this small town is a completely fictional. No such place exists, and the letters and map are all of Ashcom’s own creation.

I am particularly interested in Ashcom’s use of what appear to be readymades, formal appearing documents and maps, as well as objects shot out of context. This kind of image is accepted as a reproduction of reality to an even greater extent than other forms of photography. It’s apparent lack of artistic flair suggesting that it is objective and unmanipulated. However, as Ashcom’s work shows, this form of image is no more bound to truthful representation than other forms of photography.

I plan to use similar means to build on the the narrative in my series Witness Marks. I have considered transcribing first hand narratives from my subjects, or photographing significant objects out of context, to be presented alongside my images as ‘evidence’. With the aim of uncovering the stories and histories behind the places I am photographing, I believe that this would add interest and intrigue this work, along with an element of veracity.  

Last week I considered the different contexts in which my work could be consumed, and I proposed that my work could be seen in the realm of art, but also hoped that it may be also be viewed as documentary photography. If presented as art, any subjectivity or manipulation on my part would be accepted and understood. However if I wish for this series to be consumed as documentary photography or photojournalism, then a level of objectivity and ‘accurate’ representations would be demanded by my viewer. I must keep this in mind as the project progresses to guide my approach from now on.   

Informing Contexts, Week 1 - ‘Photography The Shape Shifter’

Where are you now?

My current work is an in-depth photographic exploration of rural communities in Central and Eastern Oregon. The main focus of this project was initially the remote town of Antelope, a tiny community of less than 50 residents. Despite it’s ‘living ghost town’ status today, Antelope became the center of national attention in the 1980’s, as it was overrun with a huge influx of members from a local cult commune. As this project has progressed, I have also begun investigating other communities in this part of Oregon. My aim is to retrace and retell the history and stories behind these places, but also to learn more about the lives of those who currently reside there. With the vast majority of Americans now living in urban areas, I aim to discover what motivates people to stay in these rural, secluded towns.

 A selection of my work to date on this project, can be seen here.

In which contexts could your work be consumed?

I am interested in the area that fine art photography and documentary photography overlap, and I aim for my work to sit in this realm. I currently see the ‘point of reception’ for this work as the traditional locations of display for art photography, such as a gallery space, or in art publications (online or print). However, I also wish for this work to have the potential to be viewed as documentary photography. For my work to be seen in both contexts, I believe that I need to obtain much more information about my subject matter and present it with my images. One way I aim to do this, is though recording personal narratives from residents in my areas of interest, and presenting this alongside the photographs.  

Stephen Shore - ‘The Frame’ & ‘The Mental Level’

As a photographer, I have always found the idea of ‘the frame’ to be a stimulating concept, with the analogy of a photograph as ‘quoting out of context’ resounding with my own practice. With my work, I enjoy having the ability to pick and choose fragments from reality, reorder and edit them, and present them as a constructed story of my own design.

Shore’s concept of the ‘the mental level’ is now also at the forefront of my mind, as I move forward with my project. Whilst wanting to present more information with my images, perhaps with written text, I still want to retain an air of mystery and intrigue. Shore describes the way in which we read a photograph as akin to a feedback loop - ‘A complex, ongoing, spontaneous interaction of observation, understanding, imagination and intention’ (Shore 1998, p.76). I aim for my work to operate on this mental level, inspiring curiosity and leaving the viewer with as many questions as answers. I look to the work of practitioners such as Christian Patterson and Alec Soth as models for this type of work. 

Image: Christian Patterson Redheaded Peckerwood 2011

Positions and Practice Collaborative Project - ‘Double Game’

 A collaborative project with Lasma Poisa, Double Game is a ‘visual conversation’ that was recorded over five consecutive days. Each day, an image would be sent from one participant to the other, requiring a response in the form of a associated photograph. By creating corresponding images that included the same themes, characters and icons, a story with no predetermined narrative was formed over the duration of the collaboration.

Using Format