Examples of relay in contemporary photographic practice include Sophie Calle’s Take Care of Yourself and Sophy Rickett’s Objects in the Field (see interview in the Appendix to this course guide) where clashes of understanding or interpretation work together to create a perhaps incomplete but nonetheless enriching dialogue between artist and viewer.
Look these pieces up online. Investigate the rationale behind the pieces and see if you can find any critical responses to them. Write down your own responses in your learning log.
- How do these two pieces of work reflect postmodern approaches to narrative?
- Another way to incorporate text into an image-based project is to include interviews or audio.
The New York Times has a simple but effective project online called One in 8 Million about the inhabitants of New York. It includes images of people from different walks of life and professions with audio clips overlaid to give a voice to the subject. It is a clever way of celebrating the richness and diversity of a city with such cultural and social diversity.
Sophie Calle: Take Care of Yourself
The rationale behind the work (see here) is that Calle received a breakup email. She didn’t know how to respond – it was if the email wasn’t for her. The email finished with the words “prenez soin de vous”.
In the Museo Marco interview (see here), she says that she did not understand very well what her boyfriend was trying to say, so she had a friend read it and try to interpret it. That gave Calle the idea to give it to other women, and specifically those who had jobs dedicated in a certain way to interpretation. In the end, she asked 107 women to interpret the email from their own point of view.
The postmodern approach is demonstrated by Calle’s use of a variety of media to communicate the responses of the women asked to interpret the letter including video, audio and text overlaid on photos, a classical example of relay.
In reading about this work, I can’t help but think that Calle plainly doesn’t understand boundaries. For example, her earlier 1979 work Suite Vénitienne documents her tailing a man from Paris to Venice. In many countries in the world, if discovered, this would lead to arrest and prosecution for harassment. Post-modern is one thing, displaying your desperate desire for attention is quite another.
Sophy Rickett: Objects in the Field
According to the Photographer’s Gallery blog (see here), Sophy Rickett is a visual artist based in London, working with photography, video and sound installation.
While working as an Associate Artist at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Rickett began her project initially inspired by old analogue negatives of the night sky. The negatives were from a specific kind of telescope which produced black-and-white negatives of space. Rickett also wrote a text to accompany the images which is reproduced in the blog.
The text is a series of vignettes – experiences that were obviously meaningful to Sophy, including discussions with the inventor of the telescope which produced the negatives.
According to the Photoparley interview (see here ), the project consisted of several series of photographs, a monitor based video and a text, in this way being very much a postmodern approach to narrative. In reading the interview, it becomes clear that the text connects the work with experiences and emotions in Rickett’s past and reflects her interest in optics and photography.
The photo titles serve only as anchor-text. They are factual and don’t seek to guide our understanding in any way. A serial number would have done just as well.
Barthes (1967) describes relay as occurring when “text … and image stand in a complementary relationship … and the unity of the message is realised at a higher level”. The difference between anchor and relay is therefore quite subtle and perhaps open to interpretation. Bull (2009) gives an example of a photo by Martin Parr in which he maintains that only one word of the title serves as relay-text due to its connotation of the exact opposite of the denotation of the photo, while the rest of the title serves as anchor text.
In the case of the supporting text written by Rickett, it’s clear that it isn’t anchor-text. It doesn’t directly relate to the images at all and therefore should be seen as complementary in the sense that Barthes meant. The meaning, in effect, consists of the relay of messages between the photos and the text, not entirely in one or the other.
The New York Times: One in 8 Million
According to the One in 8 Million website:
“New York is a city of characters. The Green Thumb, whose community garden in a Brooklyn housing project shows children that eggs don’t come from eggplant. The Dictaphone Doctor, last of a dying breed. The Jury Clerk, who says ‘Good morning’ 200 times a day, and means it. The Teenage Mother. The Tabloid Photographer. The Iraq Veteran. The Walking Miracle. Throughout 2009, The Times introduced 54 such individuals in sound and images, ordinary people telling extraordinary stories — of passions and problems, relationships and routines, vocations and obsessions. ”
By complete chance, I happened on the story of a photographer – Jim Romano – a tabloid photographer who, since 1946 has chased news on Staten Island for The Daily News, The New York Post, and other papers. Via a series of black & white images, he explained how he got into photography while recovering from tuberculosis.
Barthes, R. (1967) Rhetoric of the Image. At: https://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Barthes-Rhetoric-of-the-image-ex.pdf [Accessed 19 February 2017]
Bull, Stephen (2009) Photography. [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.com (Accessed 27 Feb 2017)