Mixed Media Project – Written Element

MIXED MEDIA PROJECT

WRITTEN ELEMENT

An investigation into the influence of bias on the photographic and moving image

As viewers we regard unfavourably those photographic images that have been overtly manipulated, in instances such as to change the physical appearance of celebrities or public opinion for political gain; such as the image of O.J. Simpson on the cover of Time Magazine in 1994.  On considering bias, it is to be questioned as to whether or not bias is a less overt form of manipulation, and whether it is ever possible to produce work which is completely devoid of bias on behalf of the photographer or filmmaker.  This essay will look at the film ‘Yellow Patch’ (2011) by Zarina Bhimji, a 35 mm film shot in India; to determine if her work provides evidence of personal preferences and inclinations.  She is a mixed media artist who has worked with installation, photography and video.

Bhimji was born in Uganda in 1963 to Asian parents, who were later expelled to the UK by the Idi Amin Regime in 1974.  This appears to have led to a search for her own sense of a personal and national identity through her work, having returned to her ancestral country to investigate how things currently exist.  The film follows a documentary format which Tagg (1988, p.12) refers to as having, “transformed the flat rhetoric of evidence into an emotional experience of drama.”  It is also more realistic than what Howells and Negreiros (2014, pp. 207, 208) refer to as, “photography’s ‘frozen’ reality (which) … frees the viewer from the constraints of time and space.”  Prosser (2006, p.72) also adds that film in turn provides the ‘fourth dimension’, an extension of that moment in time which photography captures. The exhibition by Bhimji at the Whitechapel Gallery (2012) provided a collaboration of both still and moving images, where images related to the supplementary film to form a cohesive whole.  These in turn enabled the viewer to engage with the subject matter on a much deeper level.

“The dominant tradition in film”, according to Sontag (2009, p.244) “has centered upon the more or less novelistic unfolding of plot and idea”.   However films particularly within the gallery setting, go beyond the mere narrative towards the ideological, and a view that it is not necessary to present work through more conventional means. Sontag (1979, p.143) also stated that the nature of photography (and in turn film) is such that, “one is not obliged to choose; and that preferences are … merely reactive.”  Bhimji (2012, pp.18, 19) states that “it is important … to remain allegorical if (she touches on) … the subject of politics” but she is interested in creating an emotional response to the material; that which Walter Benjamin (cited in Sontag, 1979, p.76) described as, “to see a new beauty in what is vanishing”.  The viewer concentrates on the evidence they are presented with, and history continues to resonate through to the present bringing new meanings and outlooks towards our increasingly diverse and multicultural environment.  Bhimji states on her website, that she is interested in the “location of light”, and in turn that stillness has the ability to almost create “a suspension of everyday life”.

In Yellow Patch there is a marked absence of the human presence but it makes the viewer stop, contemplate what they are presented with and in turn be still for a while; what Barthes (2000, p.27) refers to as ‘Punctum … that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).”  However Barthes (2000, p.38) also proceeds to state that, “the object speaks, it induces us, vaguely, to think (and that) …no meaning at all is safer.”  Bhimji is not merely playing safe but depicts her personal interpretation of what she has seen and the need she has felt to share this with the viewer.  It does however also show the constraints and decisions she has made in turn as to what not to depict in her work.

The film has an almost ethereal effect with a virtually monochrome palette of colour interspersed with a brief patch of yellow on the trim of the sari as shown in Fig.1, the cobalt blue of the breast of the peacock, and the red and yellow in a stained glass window. We are not told as to what the yellow patch refers, so it possibly may be a metaphor for the vibrant saffron colours of India, the trim on the sari or the quality of changing light.

ZB scan0001 Fig. 1

Bhimji has used three layers of audio within the film, music by Abida Paveen, ambient sounds and radio recordings.  Together these provide strong clues for the viewer together with the slow contemplation on the images. The repetition of the ambient sounds and radio recordings create an almost ghost like environment, as if the former employees were still working in the buildings, with historical evidence suggesting abandonment from events that had previously occurred.

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Fig.2

The absence of any voice-over commentary further emphasises what is referred to as, “the fact that strong emotional events often resist linguistic expression” (Bhimji, 2012, p.23).  She uses very slow panning shots and her photographic influence can be seen in the chosen composition and subjects on which she focuses; old files dusty and decaying in the Colonial Office (Fig.2), cobwebs, peeling paint and deep cracks in walls (fig.3) with traces left behind of former human habitation.

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Fig.3

Nature appears to be slowing taking over buildings long abandoned such as the Haveli Palace (Fig 4).

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Fig.4

 Within the buildings aspects left behind allude to a former time of prosperity, now long gone since the fall of colonialism and the end of the Raj (Fig.5).

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 Fig.5

There is a slow panning shot of a statue of Queen Victoria (Fig.6), mutilated either by design or the ravages of time; the bicycle to the right showing a modern trace of a human presence.

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Fig.6

The final part of the film moves to the working port of Mumbai Harbour (Fig.7) and symbolises the fact that life has continued but the affluence of former times has long gone and life is still a struggle.

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Fig.7

As one grows older for many there is nostalgia in looking back at the past and an affinity for places known as a child.   For Bhimji, her decision to visit India and her ability to gain access to the sites enabled her to understand the lasting effects of a dispersed population, and the life her parents had been forced to leave behind.  The decisions she made as to what to document, how to go about it and what she hoped to achieve by so doing, is evidence of her own personal bias.  This is also evidenced by the editing process in making the video, what she decided to include or leave out reflects her views and beliefs as to what she felt was important.  It is also problematic to envisage being able to produce a piece of work which can ever be completely devoid of any personal bias in its formation.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Azoulay, A. (2014) The Civil Contract of Photograph. New York: Zone Books.

Badger, G. (2007) The Genius of Photography, How Photography has changed    

                              our lives. London: Quadrille.

Badger, G. (2010) The Pleasures of Good Photographs. New York: Aperture.

Barrett, T. (2006) Criticizing Photographs, An Introduction to Understanding

                             Images.  New York: McGraw Hill. 

Barthes, R. (2000) Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

Berger, J. (2008) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books.

Bourdieu, P. (2003) Photography A Middle-brow Art. Oxford: Polity Press.

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. London: Thames & Hudson.

Campany, D. (2010) Photography and Cinema.  London: Reaction Books.

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Collier, J, jnr & Collier, M. (1986) Visual Anthropology, Photography as a

                                Research Method. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph As Contemporary Art.

                                London: Thames & Hudson.

Flusser, V. (2007) Towards A Philosophy Of Photography.

London: Reaktion Books.

Fried, M. (2012) Why Photography Matters As Art As Never Before.

London: Yale University Press.

Gidal, P. (1979)  “The Anti-Narrative”, in Screen Vol.20, No.2

Gray, C. & Malins, J. (2004) Visualising Research. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.

Hall, S. (1993) “Encoding, decoding”, in During, S. The Cultural Studies Reader.

                           London: Routledge, pp. 91-103.

Hall, S. (ed.) (2010) Representation, Cultural Representations and Signifying

                               Practices. Milton Keynes: Sage Publications.

Howells, R. & Negreiros, J. (2014) Visual Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ingledew, J. (2005) Photography. London: Laurence King Publishing

Jaeger, A-C. (2010) Image Makers, Image Takers. London: Thames & Hudson.

La Grange, A. (2008) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers.

Oxford: Focal Press.

Marien, M. W. (2010) Photography: A Cultural History. London: Laurence King.

Prosser, J. (ed.) (2006) Image-Based Research. Abingdon: Routledge.

Rose, G. (2014) Visual Methodologies. London: Sage Publications.

Sontag, S. (1979) On Photography. London: Penguin Books.

Sontag, S. (2009) Against Interpretation and Other Essays. London: Penguin

Books.

Soutter, L. (2013) Why Art Photography? Abingdon: Routledge.

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography, The Artist with a Camera.

London: Laurence King.

Tagg, J. (1993) The Burden of Representation, Essays on Photographies and

                         Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press  

Traub, C., Heller, S. & Bell, A. (eds.) (2006) The Education of a Photographer.

New York: Allworth Press.

Van Alpen, E. (2005) Art in Mind, How Contemporary Images Shape Thought.  

                        London: University of Chicago Press.

Walden, S. (ed.) (2010) Photography And Philosophy, Essays On The Pencil Of

                          Nature.  Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wells, L. (2009/a) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.

(2009/b) Photography, A Critical Introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wheeler, T. (2010) Phototruth or Photofiction? London: Routledge

Whitechapel Gallery. (2012) Zarina Bhimji. London: Ridinghouse.

Woods, T. (2009) Beginning Postmodernism.

                              Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

Website: http://www.zarinabhimji.com/

http://www.zarinabhimji.com/video_yellowpatch_part1.htm (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Azoulay, A. (2014) The Civil Contract of Photograph. New York: Zone Books.

Badger, G. (2007) The Genius of Photography, How Photography has changed    

                   our lives. London: Quadrille.

Badger, G. (2010) The Pleasures of Good Photographs. New York: Aperture.

Barrett, T. (2006) Criticizing Photographs, An Introduction to Understanding

                   Images.  New York: McGraw Hill. 

Barthes, R. (2000) Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.

Berger, J. (2008) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books.

Bourdieu, P. (2003) Photography A Middle-brow Art. Oxford: Polity Press.

Bright, S. (2011) Art Photography Now. London: Thames & Hudson.

Campany, D. (2010) Photography and Cinema.  London: Reaction Books.

Clarke, G. (1997) The Photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Collier, J, jnr & Collier, M. (1986) Visual Anthropology, Photography as a

                        Research Method. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Cotton, C. (2014) The Photograph As Contemporary Art.

                        London: Thames & Hudson.

Flusser, V. (2007) Towards A Philosophy Of Photography.

London: Reaktion Books.

Fried, M. (2012) Why Photography Matters As Art As Never Before.

London: Yale University Press.

Gidal, P. (1979) “The Anti-Narrative”, in Screen Vol.20, No.2

Gray, C. & Malins, J. (2004) Visualising Research. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.

 

 

Hall, S. (1993) “Encoding, decoding”, in During, S. The Cultural Studies Reader.

                           London: Routledge, pp. 91-103.

Hall, S. (ed.) (2010) Representation, Cultural Representations and Signifying

Practices. Milton Keynes: Sage Publications.

Howells, R. & Negreiros, J. (2014) Visual Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ingledew, J. (2005) Photography. London: Laurence King Publishing

Jaeger, A-C. (2010) Image Makers, Image Takers. London: Thames & Hudson.

La Grange, A. (2008) Basic Critical Theory for Photographers.

Oxford: Focal Press.

Marien, M. W. (2010) Photography: A Cultural History. London: Laurence King.

Prosser, J. (ed.) (2006) Image-Based Research. Abingdon: Routledge.

Rose, G. (2014) Visual Methodologies. London: Sage Publications.

Sontag, S. (1979) On Photography. London: Penguin Books.

Sontag, S. (2009) Against Interpretation and Other Essays. London: Penguin

Books.

Soutter, L. (2013) Why Art Photography? Abingdon: Routledge.

Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography, The Artist with a Camera.

London: Laurence King.

Tagg, J. (1993) The Burden of Representation, Essays on Photographies and

                         Histories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press  

Traub, C., Heller, S. & Bell, A. (eds.) (2006) The Education of a Photographer.

New York: Allworth Press.

Van Alpen, E. (2005) Art in Mind, How Contemporary Images Shape Thought.  

                        London: University of Chicago Press.

 

 

Walden, S. (ed.) (2010) Photography And Philosophy, Essays On The Pencil Of

                        Nature.  Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Wells, L. (2009/a) The Photography Reader. Abingdon: Routledge.

(2009/b) Photography, A Critical Introduction. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wheeler, T. (2010) Phototruth or Photofiction? London: Routledge

Whitechapel Gallery. (2012) Zarina Bhimji. London: Ridinghouse.

Woods, T. (2009) Beginning Postmodernism.

                              Manchester: Manchester University Press

 

Website: http://www.zarinabhimji.com/

http://www.zarinabhimji.com/video_yellowpatch_part1.htm (2011)

 

 

 

 

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