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    The photograph of a loved one, a practice-led investigation through writing

    Cruz, Ana Luisa (2013) The photograph of a loved one, a practice-led investigation through writing. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This written thesis constitutes a practice-led PhD. Many practice-led PhDs in art and design are comprised of two things – artistic practice in some form or other, for example an artist’s book or a film – and an accompanying theoretical text. By contrast, what I present here is a single text. The artistic practice is embedded within this document, taking the form of an intermingling of theoretically-informed and personally-informed writing. The thesis looks at the photograph through writing; and at writing through photography, thereby forming a deterritorialization of both worlds. The contribution to knowledge, broadly made within two areas, art writing and material culture studies, turns on presenting the world of photography as one informed by nurturing aspects of photographic practice. It looks at past experiences of being loved and loving; and at how these things link to the evocative qualities of the photograph. Within this text, words and writing (as things and actions) are linked back to personal experiences of learning to read and write, and to books as safe places, providing intimations of what could be, and of hope. The formation of letters and reading is directly linked to women’s gestures of care and attendance, and to my own present-day experiences of motherhood and my son’s first understanding of the formation of letters and words. It is as an artist, that I have pursued the possibility of a continuity between writing and the photograph. I have found a space opening up between them that has been focused through my approach to theory. This space has come to constitute my research methodology, referred to in the thesis as evaporation, and writing in waiting. This methodology is used to create a subjective imagery that ‘transcribes’ the entwining of subjective and theoretical voices relating to the experience of being in writing. Theory is understood here as an inhabiting of the space of ‘in between’ – a space before words, a space of ‘attempting to make sayable.’ In this sense theory is approached in this study as a mode of experiencing: aspects of theory are perceived as belonging to everyday places, while at the same time, everyday 3 places come to form an improvisatory place from within which to produce a response to aspects of affecting theory. Three overlapping tensions are developed through the research: - Barthes’ notion of punctum in Camera Lucida ([1980] 2000, pp.96). While retaining the power of the punctum in relation to loss as read in Barthes, I seek to unsettle fixed readings of the object (arguably suggested by Barthes’ account). To do this I draw on my own understanding of the punctum and Maria Lind’s considerations about Christine Borland’s work From Life (Glasgow), 1994, (Lind, 2006, pp.38-40) in relation to Barthes’ noéme of photography as ‘that-has-been’. Lind writes: ‘while the objects that I have in my hands are certainly not photographs, their Modus Vivendi is much the same – they function as spectra and they are proof that this individuality really existed’ (2006, p.39). In the study punctum is used to suggest a movement beyond the photograph’s surface and beyond Barthes’ notions of representation, as something extending outside the medium of photography (a transferability signalled by evaporation in the research). - Deleuze’s notion of multiplicity ([1966] 1991; Deleuze and Guattari, [1980] 2004) as an assemblage of elements deterritorializing, yet attaining some consistency for a pre-indeterminable duration. The research attends to, but also departs from Deleuze’s notion of multiplicity. For Deleuze, the first pronoun is potentially centralizing and directing, and the third pronoun conveys the potentiality to become inhered in the abstract folding and unfolding of connections (Deleuze, 1980b, part 6). In this study, while acknowledging notions of multiplicity, close relations between subject and object are understood as part of the folding and unfolding of relational connections. By exploring the use of the first pronoun, affect through gestures is viewed as a nourishing force, carrying with it an intention for language as a bridging between places. - Ingold’s view of the object as something regulated by representation (2007a; 2010). For Ingold, the object is positioned exclusively within representation, which in his eyes is directly opposed to the openness of the ‘worlding thing’ (Ingold, 2010, p.3). He rejects the object as an analytical tool and as an everyday term, favouring instead the concept of ‘material’ which allows for a translating of lived experience, through tracing the flow of materials (ibid, pp.12-13). In this thesis, the opposition Ingold sets up between object and material is revealed as problematic, 4 in as much as it places language, ideas and imaginaries further apart from the gestures of everyday affects, a distance I seek to narrow. In placing the photograph in a state of possibility between objects and things, the study comes to view material objects as temporary surfaces of things, close to the vulnerability of skin (and therefore of hope) and of everyday gestures. Following on from this state of possibility, acts of creativity through photography and writing can then be understood to be both form-making and un-forming. Surfaces are the material where the gestures of those who have manipulated or kept objects, are portrayed; but also where in attempting to disclose a connection with objects, a space in between is formed. In coming to consider the photograph as a material, affect comes to the fore of the research. Affect is viewed not only as a force, a movement of inclusion – ‘found in (...) intensities that pass body to body (human, nonhuman, part-body, and otherwise), in those resonances that circulate about, between, and sometimes stick to bodies and words (...)’ (Greg and Seigworth, 2010, p.2) – but also as a sentiment of everyday places, allowing a sort of attentiveness to language when, from vulnerability, language steps aside from the literal, creating marginal spaces, operating as an improvisatory continuation of form. The format of the research, a series of notes where some elements re-appear and re-occur throughout the chapters – for example grains of sand, the tree, the glass – forms an improvisatory response to theory. These responses foment returns to a series of situations and places positioned in-between ‘familiar and foreign’ territories. The thesis has emerged out of encounters between notions and places inside and outside books, inside and outside the academe, continuing (and confounding) each other, rather than separating from one another. ‘Place’ refers to such sites, often physical, geographical and material, but crucially, sites which carry an affective and imaginative charge. Theory takes place in the writing of this thesis as ‘systematic’ language (Nyrnes, 2006, p.17). It is ‘implemented’ in the work and informs the work, despite not always being outwardly denoted or explicitly present. In this respect, it keeps faith 5 with artistic research practices which seek to welcome qualities that formal research produces in terms of structure, rigour and constraints but retains artistic creativity’s ‘wide-eyed, experiential way of being in the world’ (Coessens et al., 2009, p.57). While the awareness of theoretical frames helps to challenge those frames and the artistic practice, theory forms informative and motivational movements to create a place both beside and within the art work.

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