Photography Arts | Field Notes |

October 4, 2019

Conceptual Photography | Materials | Defining a Theme


Is it possible to accept a photograph as an encapsulation of a moment of time? Does a photograph, or can a photograph represent reality?

To answer these questions it's first necessary to define what we mean by reality. If we accept that reality is objective—that there exists an objective reality independent of human interaction, then a photograph must in essence contain a trace of that reality.

We know that photographs manipulate perception because photographic images are edits of reality. Photographers manipulate the stories photographs tell because the frame contains exactly what the photographer wishes to show and exactly what he wishes to omit. But this editorial control over the meaning of an image does not diminish the fact that it's a latent form of some moment of objective reality, captured on film.

Just as a photographer edits and composes a photograph to construct a desired narrative, the mind also contrives mental imagery to fit an internal dialogue. We know that memories are malleable and unreliable, that memories can be constructed, implanted even. False memories are a proven phenomenon. Some scientists say that as much as 40% of early childhood memories may not have occurred at all.

I can cite at least one example from my own experience, a memory of the cover illustration of a gaming magazine from my childhood (age 8). I remember the image perfectly—a painted depiction of an axe toting viking hero, its colour, composition and content as well as the way it felt to look at it. A quick Google several decades later reveals the original image is barely recognisable–every detail is wildly different. The image in my mind's eye is superior to the reality. What was the process that overwrote the original image in my mind? Why and how do I have a clear mental image of a picture that never existed? I want to examine this process in photography, and attempt to express the possibilities for the gradual addition and replacement of an original with our own subjective interpretation.

Memories are interpretations of reality that are reconstructed in our minds. They are subjective constructs made to support a story we tell ourselves in relation to an event or an image. Consciously changing the story can unconsciously change the memory.

Mind Map exercise


I propose a theme for this unit that explores the interaction between objective reality and subjective interpretation. If I present a photographic print as a trace of a moment of objective reality, of place and time that did once exist, then I will introduce overlays, mixed media or collage to suggest additional layers of subjective interpretation onto the represented reality.

I want to build a layered image onto a photographed base as a metaphor for the way that a memory becomes embellished and distorted over time until it may no longer bear a true relation to the event to which it refers as it existed beyond our subjective perception.

To summarise—I want to explore the interaction between objective reality and subjective interpretation in memories.

Layer concept sketch

Thoughts on execution

I will expand on the possibilities and decisions I make on execution of the theme in subsequent blog posts as I complete the research, but to outline my initial thoughts—one decision I will have to make is whether to produce a series of four images that are variations on the same treatment, or whether I will look at four different treatments that explore the different ways that memories become embellished. I'm leaning towards exploring a number of experimental treatments as I attempt to visually express the ways memories are altered, before settling on one treatment and showing four examples of that treatment with variations for the final submission.

Quick sketch ideas for treatments

Treatment ideas could include—fragmentation and reconstruction, colour, paint or mixed media overlays and embellishments, reduction in the form of cutaways and layers of cutaways, building up of layers that obscure the base image or a deliberate deconstruction and fragmentation before rebuilding the image into a synthesis of the original.


Download PDF
Download PDF