Introduction & Course Overview

I photograph people for a job, such as it is, and am not uncomfortable doing so most of the time, although to be honest I find some jobs quite stressful and have to overcome a sense of foreboding to go ahead and do it. I suspect this has to do with a number of things but will likely include discomfort about having to engage with people.  Nevertheless, I often enjoy spending time with different people and getting to know them for a short time, chatting and indirectly encouraging them to let me photograph them so that we can create an image they’re happy with. I have a reasonably good idea of when I’m not successful and when I am, although often I like images that the subject/client doesn’t and they prefer ones that I’m not keen on. I can at times be super hard on myself which is probably unhelpful and counterproductive.

I also use my phone regularly to take photographs of strangers when I’m out and about and I can feel quite conflicted about doing so. Theoretically, I often wonder, is ‘street photography’ an outdated activity that is no longer acceptable or necessary? I can swing between taking photographs of my children to avoid intruding on strangers, then feeling guilty about exposing them to the world on Instagram and Facebook (although I never post anything they ask me not to), and so returning to strangers. I am acutely aware that some people are easier to impose my camera/phone on than others and that is certainly about otherness, so I try to avoid going for the easy ‘kill’. I’m aware I am referencing Sontag who likens photography to hunting in On Photography. “…It turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as the camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time” (1977; 15) She goes on to talk about hunters who in Africa nowadays might use Hasselblads instead of guns to capture their prey. Some people are more intimidating than others and I am less likely to train my lens on them. Taking photos of children feels risky but for reasons that will no doubt be explored here, it’s a stage of life I’m interested in. It’s also hard to breach people’s personal space as someone like Dougie Wallace does, but perhaps I don’t want to. Perhaps that’s not what I’m about. I wasn’t literally in her space but somehow my camera placed me there from a distance when I took a photo of a woman whose look I liked on my phone; and she was not happy. Despite being pleased with the way the image came out, I did not post it anywhere.

Due to work I have done in France with a charitable organisation, Just Shelter, and on my own I have become quite aware of the relationship between a privileged western photographer’s camera and potentially dispossessed people in front of the lens. I wrote about this in relation to photographing inhabitants of camps in Northern France for a talk I gave with Just Shelter – Responsible photography -Just Shelter 2017. The talk was far more relaxed than the essay might be, but we handed it out for anyone who may have wished to read it. (I wrote this having forgotten that there is reportedly quite a high percentage of people in the UK who lament the loss of empire. (Heath, 2016) (Stone, 2016))

I suspect the fact I grew up in South Africa at a time when the world had imposed sanctions on the SA government has a lot to do with my interest in empire and Europe’s colonial history. My time in France has also alerted me to the history of the French police particularly in WW2 and during the Algerian war. I read my friend’s PhD on the subject, which she finished in 2007. Vanessa is also one the main Just Shelter volunteers. In her thesis she connects the pattern of denial, white washing and positively-reframed history related to the two periods. What is interesting for me is that at a time when the world was rightly up in arms about the Sharpeville Massacre and other horrific episodes in SA, there are reports of Algerians being thrown out of helicopters and being deliberately drowned in the Seine, which I don’t think attracted quite the same wrath from the international community ((Miéville, 2007)). From a personal point of view I think there is some work to be made out of this and wonder if it is something to explore here in some way, or perhaps not.

Finally, I am deeply interested in constructed selves and identity. I have always thought a lot about the way we grow and develop. What leads someone to grow up and be mad or ‘evil’ (a word I find difficult, to be honest, but I’ll talk more of that another time perhaps). How it gets hidden or doesn’t. I recently read the term ‘a destabilised self’ when looking through a book about Robert Wilson by Arthur Holmberg. “By destabilising the text and setting in motion a play of meaning, Wilson destabilises the concept of self, closely bound up with language. To posit language as problematic is to posit the self as problematic. Self must be interpreted to self, and language usually translates.” (1996, 63) I would like to delve into this further and look forward to Part 3, although I’ve been in enough therapy in my life and am not looking directly to heal myself through photography as alluded to in the course folder. (I do however relish the thought of working with other people and introducing them to photography as an activity that may trigger some form of therapeutic action). I suspect I did a bit of that during The Art of Photography anyway and creativity is generally accepted as potentially beneficial. I am far more interested in exploring the darker aspects of self, especially in contrast to the way in which we curate such positive online personas. Whether or not that results in some form of healing process is not my first concern, although I concede that accepting, embracing and allowing the unattractive sides of oneself to be integrated into an idea of self might be seen as curative, especially for women who are bought up to be and look ‘nice’.

All in all I am looking forward to the module and hope to expand on work I have been doing up until now.

Heath, D. (2016). School curriculum continues to whitewash Britain’s imperial past. [online] The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed 29 Apr. 2017].

Field, S. (2017). Responsible Photography. [Essay] Sarah-Jane Field. London.

Miéville, V. (2007). French Memory of the Occupation and of the Algerian War, Construction, evolution and significance from 1945 to the present day. PhD. Royal Holloway University of London.

Sontag, S. (1971). On photography. 4th ed. London: Penguin Books. p 15.

Stone, J. (2016). British people are proud of colonialism and the British Empire, poll finds. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 29 Apr. 2017].


5 thoughts on “Introduction & Course Overview

  1. I get the sense that you’ve perused the Module ‘map’ very thoughtfully, surveying territory that offers much for exploration. Wishing you well on the journey and need discoveries.

  2. Strong introduction to where you are with your thinking at the minute and a number of your concerns resonate with me. Look forward to following how you develop the themes you touch on here through the course.

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