Final Major Project: Book Research

Over the last few months I’ve been collecting a pile of books on my desk pertaining to the project, that has been growing at a faster rate than I’ve been able to read them. One of the pleasures of the research for this project has been the way that one thing leads tangentially to another, ever-widening the scope of the research, suggesting new directions and taking in a much broader range of perspectives than I’d envisaged when I originally set out on this work. 

I’ve recently finished reading:

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner by John Williams

Originally published in 1965, this book tells the story of William Stoner’s unfulfilled life. Born to humble beginnings in the 1890s on a farm in Missouri, the course of his life is irrevocably changed after he leaves home to go to college, resulting in a silent estrangement from his parents and a lifelong struggle to find his place in the grand scheme of life. The mastery in this story is in its ability to examine the interior world of Stoner, to describe the way in which he never truly feels comfortable in his own skin, how his life ultimately seems to comprise an accumulation of incidental happenings that surround him and confine him and eventually define him. He is trapped in an unsatisfactory marriage, he is unable to truly flourish at work or explore his academic passions, he resigns himself to a distant relationship with his daughter Grace and seems to settle for an existence where happiness is not to be expected, or even really sought for. There’s a strange nobility in Stoner, who meets events with a benign acceptance, never railing against the status quo and seeming to have a capacity to just carry on regardless. 

There is an incredible loneliness here. He is unable to connect with his wife, despite certainly wanting to at first. He is ultimately unable to connect with his daughter. He lives a loveless life, until a brief interlude later in life that is also ultimately doomed. There’s a resonance here about the way our lives can be so apparently full of accomplishments and yet be incredibly unhappy, in a way that’s almost not worth acknowledging, because we still just have to carry on either way. 

The idea of a loneliness that is not immediately apparent to the onlooker is important, both in terms of being an emotion that I’ve personally experienced but also in terms of the fact that it’s easy to envisage this as being a significantly under-recognised aspect of our modern urban lives, surrounded as we are by all the conveniences and community we could supposedly want.

Relating this back to my own work, I am challenged to think about how I represent the inner life better, either of myself or my subjects. In this book, this was of course done with words and this is possibly something that has some relevance to the presentation of this project also. Finding a way though to let the image suggest something of this inner experience will be key and will also hopefully mean that the images are not too obviously suggestive, which would weaken them to my mind. 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

Cover image by Todd Hido

Cover image by Todd Hido

I came to this book via Todd Hido, who has cited Carver as an influence of his work. This book, published in 1981, is a collection of short stories exploring various aspects of relationships and the motivations and passions that underpin how people are with each other. Carver writes with a sharp sense of observation of the human condition. He expertly illustrates the motivations of his characters without having to state them explicitly, their actions revealing what truly drives them, allowing the reader to know them in a way that their partners often seem not to. 

A common thread here for me is the idea that people often don’t say what they truly think or feel, but these feelings somehow find a way to emerge and affect the external world. We all carry baggage of course, things in our history that affect the way we interact with those around us, often without ever specifically identifying or expressing what those things are. Again there’s an illustration of the importance of the inner life here, the mysterious and often uncharted world that we all carry around with us, which plays such an important role in how we live. 

Increasingly I feel that this internal world which is unique to each individual, by definition imparts a degree of loneliness on all of us, alone as we are in this personal experience that no-one else can ever share no matter how close they are to us. This opens up a whole new avenue of potential research and the question is whether I can hope to represent this properly in the FMP work, or whether this is better explored in my future practice once the FMP is out of the way. 

Of course, there’s a degree to which my work is already reflecting my own inner world and while this had been largely happening outside of my conscious control (certainly until the point at which I started this MA course) I can see how important it is to bring (allow?) more of this world into my work, both for the purpose of self-exploration but also for the purpose of experimentation and to differentiate myself from other practitioners. 

Sustainable Prospects: Strands

One of the few things I’m clear about is that I would like my future photographic career to have a number of strands, aside from creating photographic images. One of my main reasons for doing the MA was that it would provide possible openings into some of these potential career strands such as teaching.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, although having chosen a scientific career, there is little scope for the sort of writing I enjoy in my day to day work. Of course, writing this CRJ as we are obliged to do, hones the skill of writing for a photographic/critical theory audience and in this module I’ve taken another opportunity to write in this genre by agreeing to write two book reviews for Shutter Hub.

Book review published on Shutter Hub website last week

Book review published on Shutter Hub website last week

I’ve written for Shutter Hub in the past and it’s always an enjoyable opportunity, made only slightly less so on this occasion as their submission deadline coincided uncomfortably with that for the MA work this December. The stress is worth it though, for the opportunity to write about something I’m really interested in – I love books and I love photography – and to continue developing my written communication skills. 

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    The review, for ‘Perception and Imaging: Photography as a Way of Seeing’ by John Suler & Richard D. Zakia is available   here  :

The review, for ‘Perception and Imaging: Photography as a Way of Seeing’ by John Suler & Richard D. Zakia is available here:

I’ve thought about how I might develop this strand of my practice further, and consider submitting work for a journal (e.g. Sourceas possibly being the next step. I’m not sure I yet have the credentials to be a credible author in a photography journal but this is a forum I would hope to be able to contribute to in future.

I still see text as playing a role in my final project output also, and having planned to do a creative writing course at the time of my original project proposal I’ll be looking to do this as we move into the second year of the MA. I have a very important medical exam coming up in late February, so once that’s out of the way the creative writing course will possibly be the next thing on the agenda to do alongside the MA work. 


Surfaces and Strategies: Week 7 Reflection

Week 7 focused on challenging us to consider how we would put together a publication to accompany the project exhibition. This task follows on closely from the mini-project we were set between module one and two, which ended up with me putting together a rubbish little book.

As I’ve intimated in entries about other aspects of the work, I feel like my ideas about any publication arising from this project will evolve as the work does. My ideas about the project and the work I want to produce have already shifted significantly since the beginning of this module and my views about publication have developed accordingly. Prior to commencing this module I had pictured a bound hardback photobook as the pinnacle of my ambitions. I had visions of a selection of my images being presented, along with some writing by myself and possibly a selection of quotes from my interview subjects. This would have been a very monovisual book, with only my perspective presented. This no longer seems like an appropriate way to present the work that I aim to produce during this project, mainly because I’ve accepted and increasingly encourage the input of others into the creation of the work. As such, I hope to present more of their work alongside mine, either unfiltered or in some way composited with my work or that of other project participants.

One of the other questions posed this week is whether the publication will contain non-photographic content. As stated, I always envisaged my publication containing text, and have already started experimenting with how this might work best.
Having bought a selection of blank books of different sizes to try putting together a mock up, as the submissions came in from my contributors I changed tack. At this stage of the project, particularly considering the provisional nature of the ‘Searching for Meaning’ exhibition, I am working on a small, almost disposable zine format. The emphasis at the moment needs to be more on the essence of the project to this point, with a significant component of work from the contributors as well as a sample of the charity and organisational contacts that are pertinent to the project. One of the key aspects of this project for me is that it offers some way to open a dialogue on the issues covered and also hopefully provides some clues to where support might be available. The format has to be such that the content provided by my contributors has sufficient prominence alongside my own work, to demonstrate that the idea of solitude can be subverted by a more collegiate attitude. Something that, again, is developing in my own practice as I proceed with this project. 

This week’s reading, from Parr and Badger (2006) emphasised that the photobook has a long and illustrious history. I also couldn’t help thinking that to contribute to this heritage one should strive to produce something that is not a generic repetition of what has gone before, but is rather a sincere object that faithfully represents the individuality of the project it accompanies. Ideally too, the book adds something to the other strands of the output of the work and I can only hope to eventually arrive at this destination in my case.

Parr, M. and Badger, G. (2006) The Photobook: A History, Volume II. London: Phaidon.

Rubbish & Recycling: Reflection on a Mini-Project

The end of module 1 sees us facing a blank abyss of teaching-free time, time that I’d secretly hoped to fill with back to back Mad Men episodes.

Don Draper thinking about lying down on his sofa in   Mad Men

Don Draper thinking about lying down on his sofa in Mad Men

Now this was possibly just because I’d forgotten how appealing it was to imagine a world where I could spend the majority of my working day lying down on a sofa, but it was mainly because I’d found the process of preparing the end of module assignments really gruelling. So I was looking forward to the mental break. 

The week 13 work was mercifully light, with a teaser for module 2 and an introduction to the photographic work of Ed Ruscha, an artist I’ve been inspired by since visiting his retrospective at the Hayward Gallery back in 2009.

The week ended with a challenge, a mini project to produce a series of images as a small book in response to Ruscha’s books.

Ed Ruscha, shot by   Hedi Slimane, 2009

Ed Ruscha, shot by Hedi Slimane, 2009

This activity instantly fired my imagination...I love the literality of Ruscha’s photographs, how lacking in self-consciousness they appear.

He seems to take an almost disinterested look at his subject, presenting it simply as it is, with no additional photographic angle added.

He’s not trying to romanticise or polemicise, he’s just showing stuff and the rest is up to the viewer. 

His various interviews over the years seem to support this idea, of photography as something he uses simply as a tool to do a job. 

But I remember seeing some big prints of his aerial car park images at the Constructing Worlds exhibition a few years back and being really astonished by the beauty and visual interest he’d managed to extract from such an apparently mundane subject. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’m totally buying his total nonchalance about photography, but whatever the case I was looking forward to getting into this activity.

I considered a few different ideas, initially planning to shoot car parks (I’ve always been interested in them), then thought about shooting old cars. 

Around about this time we received our assignment feedback, which I found pretty deflating, so with the words of Don Draper ringing in my ears I decided I really needed to do something different for this project, just to mix things up and shake it off. 


I ended up shooting rubbish! 

As I walked around my neighbourhood I was struck by how much stuff people just dump on the streets. I’d never quite appreciated this before and having left my house in search of old bangers I turned to shooting bins and urban debris.

I’d already decided I was going to be shooting exclusively during the day as a departure from my usual practice. In response to Ruscha’s work I wanted to shoot in a nimble, ‘artless’ manner. This also seemed appropriate for the subject matter. So all images would be made using my phone. 

I’d been wanting to experiment with making a book and had in fact included this in my project proposal. I’d only recently realised I could make books via Lightroom, so decided this would be a good chance to get my head around that as well. So the brief was set, I was going to shoot rubbish on the streets with my phone and create a book using Lightroom. 

This process was really interesting and enjoyable. I enjoyed just walking round my local area, something I never usually do, and my wandering took me to places I’ve not seen before. I enjoyed the process of just being observant during the daytime, really taking in my environment. Maybe everything interesting doesn’t happen at night after all! 

Justin_Carey_Photography_Rubbish 2_175kb.jpg

Contrary to my usual practice, I walked around listening to music, casually snapping away whenever I came across something that was interesting. I was much less concerned with line, light or composition and just made photos in each case and moved on. I found this quite liberating too, with less ‘riding’ on each shot.
In keeping with the subject matter, final image selection was not especially discerning and the edits in Lightroom were minimal (again, in contrast to my usual practice) and then I moved on to putting the book together. One of the unavoidable conclusions from walking around shooting was that we’ve got too much stuff. There’s so much stuff just discarded, unceremoniously chucked out, its fate unknown – nobody seems to care that we’re polluting our own neighbourhoods just to get rid of the things we don’t want any more. It’s nuts! 

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This conclusion influenced the way I approached the book. I’d taken these simple iPhone photographs of rubbish. It seemed nonsensical to produce a glossy archival hardback book of these photos. Equally, I can’t ignore the fact that whatever I produce is likely to end up contributing to the pile of crap on the pavement at some point in the future, so I felt that a small simple book with images on basic paper, with soft cover, would be the way forward.

Rubbish & Recycling in East London
Rubbish & ...
By Justin Carey
Photo book

Since producing the book, I’ve thought about how these images might be better displayed in a more congruent way. On one hand there’s the ironic angle where the book is presented with lots of packaging in a big cardboard box filled with crepe paper and an accompanying essay about the evils of modern capitalism and consumer culture. Almost like rubbish as a collectible. On the other hand, it seems wrong to produce a book at all. A book of rubbish photos about rubbish is destined for only one place…so why do it?

I have thus resolved to create a digital display of the images with an accompanying statement that hopefully explains the rationale behind the decision to display them in this way and the idea underpinning the project.

I feel like there’s more in this project and will have more to say in due course.