A 5: Evaluation

A 5: Evaluation

Title: ‘The soul of a doctor’ (Harper et al., 2006)

Word count: 1,988 with figures and 1,902 without figures

LOOKING BACK

Where have I come from?

This multimodal work began in September 2020 after resigning my GP practice; I was ‘burnt-out,’ anxious, and not sleeping. I was suppressing negative experiences of working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. I had kept an inconstant iPhone ‘diary’ of images of me and the pandemic; I wanted to get something ‘off my chest,’ but I was not sure what.

Shem’s acerbic fictional novel ‘House of God’ (Figure 1 – not shown) is an anchor source for me (Shem, 1978). It exposes a ‘hidden,’ darker side of medical care in the USA. In this degree my photographic practice has grown to focus on issues in health and social care. I wanted to continue to do this by looking at my own experiences of health care, and ‘shining a light’ on things that I was unhappy with. I knew that this would include my reactions to Covid-19, but I was not clear what that would look like and how I would get there. I was also uncertain about revealing negative feelings about myself and Covid-19 to others. What did I want express?’ (Stover, 2021)

Figure 1: One of my starting points 

What have I learnt?

My learning has been about me, visual culture and listening to others. 

Me: I was slow to produce work (A1 and A2) that I was happy with, I kept going and eventually produced work (A4 and A4) that reflected my feeling and concerns. Part of that was recognising and accepting my feeling of isolation, anxiety, and danger.  

Visual culture: I have a much better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of my practice. There is synergy with my Contextual Studies which is a Foucauldian analysis of power relations in medical visual culture. 

Listening to others: My tutor encouraged me to be experimental; that led, for example, to a breakthrough in my assemblage work. My room ‘Remotely’ staged work was a result of interviewing other doctors consulting remotely, and researching other artists work representing Covid-19 (Format21, 2021). ‘Anger’ about a high level of deaths and institutional mistakes was ‘missing’ in these works, but grief and sadness was very present from families consulting with me online. 

What mistakes did you make?

My biggest mistake was to limit myself to showing my lockdown experiences at home; it was too literal and limited. This was related to me being emotionally ‘dull’ and contained from home working at the start of this module. I was extremely disappointed by the series in A1 and A2 that I produced as they did not reflect what I felt or had experienced in ‘lockdown,’ and fell short of my expectations.

I was also slow to pick up my tutor’s advice or sequencing and experimentation, but eventually the ‘penny dropped,’ and as I tried new things for A3, A4 and A5 my confidence in my work as an expression of what I wanted to say grew (Colberg, 2016).

What were the low points? 

I researched and developing an innovative online photovoice project with a national provider of GP mental health services. This fell through due to high GP use of the service. 

The next lowest point was after I had produced three different series for my autoethnography in A1 and A2 (Figures 1-3). I felt overwhelmed by the number of images in my archive; my blog says, “too many images.” Paradoxically that frustration became a driver to interview other doctors about their experiences of working from home which led to a trial film (A2) and then my staged ‘Remotely’ work (A3) about our psychological responses to Covid-19.  

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Figure 2: A 1 Sample contacts               Figure 3: A 2 Clinic contacts (annotated)   Figure 4: A 2 Home contacts (annotated)

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What were the high points?

Figure 5: Shattered flagstone 

My autoethnography did become a reflexive investigation exploring my personal experiences which, like the other elements in my submission, connects my story to wider social and cultural understandings about home working and the pandemic. The breakthrough came after being encouraged to take new ‘accidental’ images (A3). Figure 5 is an image that triggered a re-sequencing of my ‘home’ images, using additional archive and family images. Unlike previous sequencing it is primarily visual and was the first sequence that I was pleased with.

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Another high point was developing my still life assemblages (A4), that comment on the intuitional power dynamics of Covid-19. My tutor suggested using Padlet and some ‘Dada’ informed experiments (Figure 6). Before this my learning blog was mainly textual, but after this became more visual. I also created a padlet timeline for for the whole project which helped me to recognise key decision points in the project (Figure 7). 

Figure 6: Assemblages development Padlet (A4) 
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Figure 7: Timeline excerpt of project (30/08/21)

Who influenced you?

Larry Sultan and Jim Goldberg combine vernacular forms, annotated images, film stills and documents, to create stories about his childhood, family and communities (Sultan, 2017; Grieve, 2018; Jones, 2016). Goldberg refers to this multi-modal approach as “total documentation” (Goldberg, 2011) My response to these works was to expand my image selection from a limited series taken at home to include new settings (my surgery and town), images from my iPhone blog-roll, and family and archive images, to create a richer visual story of working from ‘Home’ and ‘Away’ (my GP surgery); these are a meditation on ‘loss’ of workplace and face to face working.

Freudian and Jungian ideas about psychological responses to stress, and Lazarus’s investigation of responses to stress, acted as a framework for thinking about my responses to working remotely (A3), and anchoring labels for final images in A5 (BCcampus, 2021; Hopwood, 2008; Lazarus, 1999). 

Photographic inspiration on lockdown comes from the work of Viktoria Sorochinski, but it is Susan Hobbs’s staged ‘psycho-dioramas’ in ‘Small Problems of living’ that suggested what I could do in my consulting room at home (Figure 8) (Zhang, 2020; About Viktoria Sorochinski. Webinar interview with Zoe Harrison., 2020; Hobbs, 2012). I staged my empty room with vernacular and medical objects such as used Amazon deliver boxes, drinks bottles, gloves and a smashed computer and table, to show psychological states relating to stress and adaptation. 

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                          Figure 8: Small Problems of Living – sample image

In my blog summarising Sultan’s and Goldberg’s works I have written, “My work is ‘political’ and I have lost sight of that…” (Sultan, 2017:19-20; Watch: Jim Goldberg’s Short Film, Luna Llena, 2018). My response what to include overtly ‘political’ images, such as texts about ‘lack of PPE,’ in my ethnographic series, and I started to think about a bigger story about fear and incompetence in the pandemic. My Contextual Studies focus also changed from examining medical iconography to exploring institutional power in visual culture (Foucault, 1994; Hall et al., 2013).

Figure 9: Sequencing board 

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Description automatically generatedThe biggest influence has been my tutor in: discipling me on how to present my work; encouraging sequencing by using sequencing boards (Figure 9); and to experiment with ‘surrealist subversion tradition’ images, such as assemblage (Fox, A and Caruana, N, 2016; Colberg, 2016; Tate, 2021). My assemblage work ‘Visible Invisibility’ (A4) is informed by the work of Man Ray and Sarah Lucas as it uses vernacular and medical objects to create still life assemblages that speak of power relations and wider societal concerns relating to Covid-19 (Man Ray, 1944; Lucas, 2019).

How are you critically positioned within photography as a result of the work of this course.

My previous work has been largely documentary, with personal, diaristic and commentary on health and social care issues. These elements continue to be expressed in this module, but I have expanded my photographic vocabulary by staging ‘psycho-dioramas’ and assembling ‘still life’s’. This multi-modal approach to telling my story, disclosing my ‘hidden’ self, and questioning institutional power creates a richer story: for me they are shattered fragments of a whole, and not discordant disparate fragments.

Have you found a personal voice and how will you go about discovering it from here on?

This submission reflects my personality, passions, and practice: it is personal, diaristic, experimental, playful, and political. The element that is ‘missing’ is my connection to the materiality of my subject and images, but that is in my next steps. Increasingly I will be sharing my work with students and others.

How did technical decision impact or impair the final outcome? 

A development issue was wide angle lens distortion of images of my consulting room (A3). Initially I corrected these ‘mistakes,’ but after reading a quotation by Wendy McMurdo in another student’s blog to “always embrace mistakes,” I decided to re-analyse the ‘Remotely’ images from A 3 for A5 and make a virtue and exaggerate that distortion (Figures 10-12). 

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Figure 10: Visible Invisibility: Strain 
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Figure 11: Visible Invisibility: Beauty and the Beast
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Figure 12: Visible Invisibility: Displacement 1

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Figure 13: Lighting Still Life’s 

I had not photographed still life images before, and initial images had inconsistent lighting which included daylight which change intensity and colour during shooting. I bought new lighting to produce controlled room lighting (Figure 13).  

Were you true to your artistic intentions?

My intention was to articulate my experiences of working in lockdown and make visible ‘hidden’ underlying issues in health care. In the process I smashed and photograph objects to unleash my own anger about Covid-19. That was helpful, as was the guidance of my tutor to experiment with ideas from surrealism and ‘accidental’ images. Both gave energy to my work.

What did you learn from the editing process? 

Sequencing images has been frustrating; I began sequencing based on what the images meant to me, but with the help of my tutor, OCA peer meetings, and Joel Colberg’s book I realised that image linking needed to be primarily visual. Sequencing for ‘Home’ is based around a ‘chance’ shot of a shattered flagstone (A3). 

What are the main lessons that you will take away as a result of this course?

I have something to say about myself and other doctors, and the state of health and social care in the UK. Much of my work is about power relations. Tutor and peer support has been important in motivating me developing my work; that will continue.

There has also been a therapeutic dimension to the reflective iterative process of this photographic enquiry; I have got some things ‘off my chest.’ 

LOOKING FORWARD

How would you like your audience to experience your work?

My work is multimodal with different but complementary genre elements. Collectively they tell an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ story about my feelings and concerns relating to the pandemic. The staged images, of ‘Remotely’ and ‘Visible Invisibility,’ could both stand on their own as independent projects. 

Do you have any ideas for venues or production formats?

There are three/four pieces of work that reveal my ‘soul;’

TITLE: ‘Home and Away:’ These are my ethnographies about working from home and visiting my empty GP clinic. These will form two hand-made books, one called ‘Home’ and the other ‘Away.’ Both books will have resin covers embedded with the medical paraphernalia of Covid-19 such as lateral flow test kits, gloves, and masks, and will be contained within a single cardboard sleeve made from PPE packaging.

TITLE: ’Remotely’: This could form an artwork to exhibit with my unused audio from the doctors that I interviewed who were shielding and working from home. There could also be a virtual exhibition of the images and an accompanying catalogue.

TITLE: ‘Visible Invisibility’: The title is a play on Foucault’s concept of “invisible visibility” (Foucault, 1996;165). This would form a temporal or virtual gallery exhibition with an accompanying catalogue advertised on Kickstarter to raise money for ‘Doctors in Distress’

In my own words: Jim Goldberg, photo storyteller

All these works would be suitable for submission to ‘The Wellcome Trust’ who regularly exhibit medical work.

Do you need to make any changes to your portfolio?

This evaluation of my work has made me think afresh about how Jim Goldberg’s work informs mine. I would like to print my ‘Remotely’ images and ask the shielded GPs that were my research for that work, to annotate them (Figure 14), perhaps with images of their own. This would add to their authenticity.

Figure 14: Still from ‘Rich and Poor’ by Jim Goldberg

SOURCES

About Viktoria Sorochinski. Webinar interview with Zoe Harrison. (2020) In: 1854 Access. Directed by Sorochinski, V. https://access.bjpsubs.com/1854-presents-viktoria-sorochinski-live/?utm_campaign=Newsletter%20Emails%202020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=97118875&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9j2oeXiiq79rbzEGZOo34VXYy7VyDmqXZ3Wv7MAJt2uFMpPeHpBPf4WJgOJjLS85ANY6b0weRPrWgJouFpxvmn1oPmSg&utm_content=97047404&utm_source=hs_email: 1854; British Journal of Photography.

BCcampus (2021) Freud and the Psychodynamic Perspective. At: https://opentextbc.ca/psychologyopenstax/chapter/freud-and-the-psychodynamic-perspective/ (Accessed 04/02/2021).

Colberg, J. (2016) Understanding Photobooks: The form and content of the photographic book. (s.l.): Routledge.

Format21 (2021) Picturing Lockdown: Photography and the Pandemic. Format21 webinar. [Webinar 17/03/2021].

Foucault, M. (1994) ‘The Subject and Power’ In: Power: Essential Works 1954-84: Volume Three. London: Penguin Books. pp.326–348.

Foucault, M. (1996) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Oxford: Vintage; Reprint edition (1 May 1996).

Fox, A and Caruana, N (2016) Research in Photography: behind the image. (2nd ed.) Oxford: Routledge.

Goldberg, J. (2011) Goldberg quoted in an interview with Aaron Schuman in ‘Open See’ – in Conversation with Jim Goldberg”. At: seesawmagazine.com/jimgoldberginterview/jimgoldberginterview (Accessed 29/12/2020).

Grieve, M. (2018) ‘I’ll be your Mirror. The Community issue: Jim Goldberg’ In: British Journal of Photography(March 2018)

Hall, S. et al. (2013) Representation. (Second) London: Sage.

Harper, G. et al. (2006) The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students face life and death. Harvard, USA: Algonquin Books.

Hobbs, S. (2012) Sarah Hobbs: Small Problems in Living. Italy: Charta.

Hopwood, A. (2008) Jung’s model of the psyche. At: https://www.thesap.org.uk/resources/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/carl-gustav-jung/jungs-model-psyche/ (Accessed 01/11/2020).

Jones, S. (2016) In my own words: Jim Goldberg, photo storyteller. At: huckmag.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/flipping-gaze-photos-jim-goldberg-documentary-storyteller/ (Accessed 29/12/2020).

Lazarus, R. S. (1999) Stress and emotion: a new synthesis. London: Free Association Books.

Lucas, S. (2019) Sarah Lucas: Au Naturale 09/26/18-01/20/19. [New Exhibitions Museum] At: https://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/sarah-lucas (Accessed 07/06/2021).

Man Ray (1944) Mr. knife and Mrs fork. At: https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/mr-knife-and-mrs-fork-man-ray/xQHhA3Y9mzC9nA?hl=en (Accessed 26/06/2021).

Shem, S. (1978) The house of God. New York: Richard Marek Publishers.

Stover, S. (2021) Get it off my chest. At: https://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/59/messages/219.html (Accessed 30/08/2021).

Sultan, L. (2017) Here and Home. Prestel Muich, London, New York: DelMonico Books.

Tate (2021) Assemblage – Art Term. At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/a/assemblage (Accessed 03/06/2021).

Watch: Jim Goldberg’s Short Film, Luna Llena (2018) Directed by Goldberg, J. At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/newsroom/jim-goldberg-short-film-luna-llena-migration-usa-migrant-caravan/ (Accessed 29/12/2020).

Zhang, I. R. (2020) ‘Viktoria Sorochinski’s dream-like lockdown project reconnects with the inner-self.’ In: British Journal of Photography – on line At: https://www.bjp-online.com/2020/05/viktoria-sorochinskis-inside-outside/ (Accessed 04/10/2020).