While mindlessly scrolling Instagram this morning my thumb paused on an image posted by the F22 group; one from a series by Wendy Carrig which had just won gold in the Still Life & Object category in the AOP 2020 Awards.
The photograph was one of a discarded lighter with an image of a pin-up style model printed on the front. Looking well-battered and photographed against a decayed looking background, I paused because with the print on the lighter, it almost looked like a portrait photo, but I then noticed it was in fact an object.
This one image started a little whirlwind of thoughts as I clicked through to read more about the series, thoughts that extend beyond it’s purpose of highlighting discarded plastics found in the ocean, and down the rabbit hole I went…
Images on ‘things’
It struck me that someone has created that pin up image at some time. It may have been fairly recent or it may have been some time ago. I wondered whether the artist knew their image was on a lighter bobbing around in the sea.
It then made me realise there are lots of images printed on ‘things’. Some, like product packaging and book covers, are likely commissioned for use in that purpose. Others, like things you might find in a gift shop, like this lighter, or mugs, or t-shirt for example, are often emblazoned with graphics and images which may or may not have had the original artists’ express permission for use.
The discussion about stock images / stolen images and permission for use is one that I’ve seen recently highlighted by the controversial use by the UK Government of an image of a ballerina by an american photographer, Krys Alex. It seemingly encouraged those who work in the arts to retrain in a ‘viable’ job and there has been considerable backlash by those in creative industries. The cropped photograph was taken from a stock image file, and the photographer has expressed her disappointment in the use of the image for this purpose. But that is a big conversation for another post.
It also made me realise how many peoples’ art works its’ way into our lives without us even noticing. Graphics, typography, illustration, photography; a creative ‘image’ is so often printed on a ‘thing’. I also wondered whether these images always add to the beauty of a ‘thing’. This gave me more ideas for assignment 2, and photographing these hidden in plain sight pieces of artwork. Looking for these images and photographing them to show the artwork, without necessarily showing the object, or as a series of objects with a running theme of printed images.
The Greater Good
I gave a lot of thought to the purpose of Carrig’s series. The four images are part of a larger series, All At Sea. The series highlights the amount of discarded plastics found in the ocean. I thought this series was as beautiful as it was shocking and disappointing. The colour grading used in the photographs is cool and reminiscent of the sea, with a turquoise / teal theme interjected with a surprising but complimentary rainbow of reds and yellows.
These objects were all found on Carrig’s local beach. Just a snapshot of the much bigger picture. I love that through her photography Carrig has been able to raise awareness of this issue. As photographers, is there a duty to do similar with our work? I am always drawn to causes, wanting to help in whatever way I can. Maybe that’s why this series appealed to me.
I also liked that Carrig herself highlighted how this work was quite different from the people photography she is more widely known for. I’ve been listening to A Photographic Life podcast recently and it was mentioned that to pigeon hole yourself as a photographer can be so limiting. This is something I have been very aware of with my own work, and my paid work has been focused on family documentary photography. One of the main reasons I wanted to study again was to step outside of this genre and explore other photography and see where it takes me.
One thing I’m keen to do more of is setting up intentional images rather than documenting a moment.
I thought about the importance of our current blight against plastic that Carrig had highlighted in her work and looked up to see a sea of plastic (pun intended) in my own life. Many of it pointless and un-recyclable. I thought about how I could document this in various ways. In an archival / lightbox method like that I mentioned in my first ideas. Or maybe in a close up abstract way. Or by gathering it together for greater impact. Maybe in unusual places to highlight the issue. At the moment I don’t feel the pull to explore this fully enough to create the sort of impressionable images I want to make.