4: Audience: Light and Life in T’ien Shan

This body of work is based on ‘outsider’ photographs of Baizakh village, Kyrgyzstan taken in snatched time over 6 days fitted around consultancy work to facilitate a participatory workshop with women and a few men from different rural areas of Kyrgyzstan on empowerment and gender. For logistical reasons I was not able to stay and do an in-depth photo-documentary. The photos are a record of what I saw:

  • at a specific time of year: in May 2016 – late Spring when the weather is very good and the land is green after Spring rains. Not the winter temperatures of minus 6-16C from November to March.
  • at specific ‘golden hours’ of day: dawn/early morning, midday and late afternoon/sunset.
  • in specific locations around the house where I stayed on the beautiful outskirts of the village and my walk to the workshop venue at the school.

But the photos are more than most tourists would see and my contextual information on peoples’ perspectives from the workshop more in-depth than most outsiders would have.

The photos were taken with a DSLR camera, but without a tripod because as I was there as workshop facilitator I did not want to look like a photographer. That also meant I did not have time to work with people to get the ‘best shots’ with model release forms. But a many of the photos were technically good enough to put together in a superficial way without text as two Blurb books (black and white and colour versions) from Lightroom Book module for an OCA personal development unit on Landscape Photography (these versions are given in the relevant projects).

In this audience-focused project I revisit these photographs again as completely new books developed with and for potential audiences/markets in Kyrgyzstan and Russian-speaking countries and international development and tourist markets. My re-working builds on skills developed in earlier assignments in this unit.

In the context of wider debates on creative and documentary in international photographic practice, I am particularly interested in:

  • how photography as a medium that starts with ‘reality’ rather than imagination affects my creative process.
  • potential role of Photoshop in my workflow, to creatively enhance what can be relatively easily and quickly achieved in Lighroom and/or DxOFX and/or automate creative effects for speed and consistency for large series images for Book Design or Moving Image work.
  • different possible approaches to photobook design in terms of visual communication of images, their sequencing and layout and use of text for different audiences from the same set of photographs.
  • different ways of engaging with different audiences – differences in what they contribute and differences in their reactions on feedback.
  • in the context of COVID I focus on exploring and developing a range of on-line social networks reaching different potential audiences for my work.

4.1 Communicating Kyrgyzstan:
photographic creativity

I experiment with the creative process prompts from Project 1.3 and 2.1 to broaden and re-imagine my vision of the images and looking at how the workflow, questions and prompts developed for illustration could relate to my photographic workflow. Exploring the potential of creative photography to communicate feeling and mood, rather than simply recording light through a lens. To free up my thinking around what documentary could be and improve the other more documentary images.

4.2 Cuckoos at dawn:
outsider in a Kyrgyz village

Planned as charity book to fundraise for women’s associations in Kyrgyzstan, and also a participatory reflection and sharing of different ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’ perspectives on Baizakh.

  • I re-select and re-edit the colour photographs, focusing on content and meaning rather than technical quality, using my skills developed in Assignment 2.2 Shutterscapes to bring more technically problematic images to an appropriate technical level.
  • I use InDesign to give a better layout with my own text from memories, brief notes and reports on peoples’ views expressed in the workshops and on-line information/Kyrgyz texts building on approaches to image and text in book design from Part 3 Image and Text.
  • I add pages of ‘audience-generated’ ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’ text at the end written in reaction to my version by ‘outsider’ colleagues from the capital Bishkek, ‘outsider’ workshop participants from elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan and people from Baizakh village itself. I also start to look at what potential markets in Kyrgyzstan might be interested in in terms of images and text.

Designed with and for a lower cost Kyrgyzstan/Russian-speaking audiences (with translation) international development agencies, and socially interested tourist market.

4.3 Light in the Shadows
of T’ien Shan

Intended as a photobook with market in Kyrgyzstan and internationally. Main feedback from photography networks but with potential tourist market??

I re-select and re-edit the photographs as more abstract monochrome images, still focusing on content and meaning but particularly design and technical quality, using my skills developed in Assignment 2.2 Shutterscapes to bring more technically problematic images to professional photographic technical level.

Designed with and for a higher cost market with Kyrgyzstan/Russian-speaking audiences (with translation) international development agencies, and socially interested tourist market.

Making the World a Better Place

The project continues my interest in different subjective and objective ‘outsider’ approaches to documentary, focusing on environmental challenges, social challenges of marginalisation and rural poverty. But – further my response to First Things Next – I am aiming for different types of outputs that fulfil different purposes for different audiences linked to a broad ethical commitment.

In my documentary work I am aiming to provoke questioning from the viewer rather than imposing one single message. Highlighting potential contradictions and tensions between ideals and realities, rather than overuse of shock and horror. To inspire exploration to discover more about the world around us. Rather than ‘compassion fatigue’ that makes us want to retreat from reality. And where possible finding beauty in the everyday things, as well as the natural and human-made environment around us.

Audience engagement

I look at how my creative process, particularly documentary work, can be significantly improved through working with other people to help me to develop alternative narrative threads and visual approaches, building on some of my professional qualitative research skills. My body of work will includes ways of engaging different audiences to improve my work in terms of:

  • refining the ‘messages’ by getting a range of local views and information on social and environmental issues through conversations and interviews and engagement with relevant local social networking sites.
  • feedback on the effectiveness of the ‘communication aesthetics’ from local, national and also international overseas audiences to improve my technical and visual communication skills through ZemniImages Facebook page crosspasted to other social networks.
  • finding different marketing, promotion and advocacy outlets for the different dimensions of the body of work.

I am particularly interested in how my creative process can also be of use and benefit to the people giving feedback, not only in terms of what I am trying to say but also putting audiences in contact with each other to discuss issues and create their own work.

Some issues to be considered

  • Photographer and subject: the photographer as voyeur ‘shooting’ images of issues and themes that are not necessarily the same as the subjects of the photo.
  • Is the image showing how things are, or how the photographer want things to be? or how the audience wants to see them? Selective editing and erasure (eg cars and rubbish bins)
  • Different focus and viewpoint – is the photographer directing the image or leaving interpretation open?
  • Present, past and future – places change over time – even over a few seconds – short term, long term, historical perspective and layers – the past is always present but maybe the message is for the future.
  • Exploration and deepening understanding of tensions and contradiction of reality over time