Deciding what to do with text in my current project is one of my biggest headaches. The fundamental idea behind Brave Faces was that it would be a visual response to my father’s unpublished novel of the same title.
I have tried various iterations, from including slides with swathes of text.
But that, repeated over about 10 separate slides for 12 images, made the visual flow stutter to a halt, and left no room for what narrative was being carried by the photography to work.
So I tried a handful of much shorter text slides.
I thought it was working. But my tutor Michelle raised concerns about whether the work needed suggestion rather than description.
As it currently stands, I have tried to let the text do what the photographs are meant to do – work as fragments of a whole.
But it has now got me questioning the whole role of text within a visual narrative.
I was particularly interested in Art Spiegelman’s work Maus. Not just because it is combines a father’s testimony (in his case of the Holocaust) with Art’s imagery (nearly all drawn as a comic but with a tiny handful of photographs, but because of the way he has combined the two.
As Marianne Hirsch in Family Frames explains “Confronting these visual media with his father’s spoken testimony” provides a route into the “oppositions between documentary and aesthetic on the one hand testimony and fiction on the other.”
His father’s testimony anchors the drawings to a reality almost too grim to recount.
“One provides most of the verbal narrative the other the visual one gives testimony while the other receives and transmits it,” says Hirsch.
That’s not quite what I am attempting to do, since my photography is intended both to resonate with, and respond to, my father’s words and tell my own parallel narrative in my own way, alongside it.
Art’s mother, having survived the Holocaust, killed herself in the 1960s. Maus in part is an attempt to come to terms with her death or, as Hirsch puts it: “In Maus father and son together attempt to reconstruct the missing story of the mother.”
Brave Faces has at its heart a similar intent – though one of a child’s coming to terms with a missing mother.
So, why have the text in there at all? Has it not gone so far away from the original idea already, that my father is not quite in the project any more?
No, I don’t believe it has. And I think the text interruptions are more vital now than they were even just a few weeks ago.
Sol Worth in Picture’s Can’t Say It makes the point that: “There is no pictorial means that a painter has of indicating that a colour, a shape, or an object is not something, or anything else. All that pictures can show is what is on the picture surface.
“It is for that reason that it seems reasonable to argue that True-False criteria cannot be applied to pictures and that, further, pictures cannot be said to ‘make propositions’.
Pictures cannot, he goes on to say, “deal with negation”.
In fact, he says: “Pictures are a way that we structure the world around us. They are not a picture of it.”
The images I have produced thus far correspond to a hazy mixture of emotional states, memory (admittedly slippery) and shared stories held between me and my father. Such visual elements correspond to an inner world, a sense of my own history and to artistic conventions (such as the aesthetic, use of negative space, iconography etc), rules, styles and usages.
What corresponds them to reality, I believe, is my father’s words, even if referenced only fleetingly.
Spiegelman, A. (2003). The complete Maus. London: Penguin.
Hirsch, M. and Harvard University Press (2016). Family frames : photography narrative and postmemory. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press.
Worth, Sol. Pictures Can’t Say it. In Worth (n.d.). Studying Visual Communication. University Of Pennsylvania Press.