In the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation – Roland Barthes
Authentication in photography is the proof that the subject existed at some point in time when the image was taken. Representation in photography deals more with how the subject is portrayed.
What I think Barthes is saying, is that being able to prove that the subject existed in that moment is more important than what the image represents or the meaning within the image.
In my current work, I take images of young people using my analogue cameras to document that images are being taken by the young people. My work is authentication or “proof” that young people are participating and engaging in analogue photographic methods.
I feel that these represent exactly what they’re meant to, the truth as shown in the image. I do not however, control what other people see in the images, this is how the meaning or representation of an image can change once the practitioner releases it to the world.
Smith C, (2022) Participant Developing his negative
In the past, with previous works, I have digitally manipulated and planned specific shots to represent a meaning. For example, I took a shot of my daughter playing marbles; but that was what it represented and could not have been further from the truth. In actual fact, she simple stood and posed for the image while I had my partner drop the marbles in front of the camera to give the illusion that marbles had been thrown. The authenticity shows my daughter was there in that moment, and that the marbles where also present too, but the reality versus the representation is far removed.
Smith C (2020), Losing my Marbles
Vaughan M, (2022) Wedding Photo
This also works in the opposite way too, for example, in a photo of me and my new wife, it shows us stood on a rock with Menai Bridge behind us. People have stated that this must be a fake background and I too would believe it was a fake background had I not been there in person, stood on that rock with that bridge behind us. I believe this reaction to such a stunning image is due to the sea of digitally manipulated images we are exposed to on a daily basis.
In particular, I love the work of Sirkhane Darkroom and Wendy Ewald. Both give analogue cameras to children and then teach them to develop and print their works. This is giving the young people the opportunity to learn a skill and art that they previously wouldn’t have had access to, but also provides the participants with a voice to tell their stories and take photograph what is important to them. This provides us as adults, with a contaminated view of the world, a chance to see the same world through a child’s gaze.
To date, my project is developing and progressing but at the same time it is encompassing new things regularly. Originally, it was a simple idea to just provide the young people with a film camera to take pictures and learn to develop.
Now I’m looking at why that is important and what the participants will get out of it. I’m looking at the lessons that can be learnt, not only by the participant but also the viewers/consumers.
My thoughts are constantly evolving and making me restless. I need to stop, evaluate and order these thoughts to prevent the accidental destruction of my project.
Wend Ewald – Portraits and Dreams
Sirkhane Darkroom – I Saw the Air Fly
Mandy Simpson – Disposable Manchester
Susan Sontag - On Photography
Roland Barthes - Camera Lucida
Morris, P. (2017), A Question of Authentcity, [online] Available at: https://philipmorrismaphotography.co.uk/2017/02/05/a-question-of-authenticity/ (Accessed on 20 February 2022)
Barthes, R. (1981) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang
Price, D. (2015) ‘Surveyors and Surveyed’, in WELLS, L. (ed) Photography – A Critical Introduction, Oxon: Routledge, 90-93
Scruton, R. (1981) ‘Photography and Representation’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1981), pp. 577-603 [Online]. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343119 (Accessed 29 January 2017)
Tagg, J. (1988) ‘The Burden of Representation’ PhotoPedagogy [Online]. Available at: http//www.photopedagogy.com/john-tagg.html (Accessed 30 January 2017)