Contextual Research Informing Contexts

MA702 Work In Progress
MA702 Critical Review

Thoughts on Informing contexts

In a masochistic kind of way, I have enjoyed this module. it has been very intense with lots to learn and take in. I think though this module is there to set us up for the FMP, to show us how much research and reading we need to do to be an informed practitioner. In my role as student rep, I have heard all the grumblings and complaints, some justified , some not but all in all did we learn anything? The answer has to be yes absolutely. I still have a long way to go and more, much more to do but whatever the results I receive this module, Im proud of the work I have submitted.

But I’m a Boy- Update

Drew is a 40 years old Trans man and parent to his daughters. He is also on the autistic spectrum and has spent a lifetime exploring and cycling through a multitude of labels in his plight to fit in, function and understand himself.  Using a mixture of formats including professional cameras, Phone cameras, symbolism, the written word of Drew, his music and  poetry with the intention of creating a pathway for others to follow.  It will also reflect my own feelings and prejudices as I explore with Drew the decisions and paths our lives have followed. The work produced to be published in a book with a gallery exhibition using film, 3D sculptures and images.

Last Summer, while shopping for a new pair of glasses, the shop assistant continuously mis-gendered Drew even when corrected. As Drew left the opticians, he saw himself in the shop window and snapped this image and asked the same question he had been asking since a small child.

“What will it take for people to see me as a boy?

“What will it take for people to see me as a man? (Drew HW 2020)

Drew had a difficult childhood, His undiagnosed autism made him already ‘different’ from his peers but it was when he hit puberty he had real difficulties with the realisation that he wasn’t a boy to his friends and elders and would have to grow into adulthood as a girl. It all became too much, the solitude brought on by his autism and the gender dysphoria he was experiencing ended with a suicide attempt at just seventeen. It was whilst recovering he realised he was going to have to fit in and ‘play the game’ perhaps for the rest of his life.

In the book Becoming A Visible Man (Jamison Green. 2020) argues that no-one actually checks if children are born with a true gender asking students in his lectures, the question;

 ‘Apart from the visible aspects how do you know what sex you are? (Jamison Green 2020. 15)

You are called a boy or girl by your parents or your doctor. No one actually checks or asks the child as they grow up. 

In Travis Nuckolls and Chris Baker’s YouTube video asking people from the small town Colorado Springs the question;

Most answer that they didn’t choose, they just are. The thought provoking video is still as relevant today and the same question could be asked of people’s gender. 

When did you choose your gender? Is gender just another social construct?

In today’s society, a child’s gender is signified by colours. Pink for a girl, blue for a boy. What’s perhaps less known is that up until the early 1950s, the colours were reversed. 2011 [Online]. Pink was seen as a more dominant colour and blue was seen as more feminine.  In the 1800s Boys and Girls were pictured in white dresses up until 6 or 7 like the former USA President Franklin Roosevelt pictured here. 

President Franklin as a young Child

To most people Drew would seem the perfect parent, looking after his children, school runs, hobbies, he’s a keen hill runner and tries to live the best life he can for his kids.

He’s a self taught classical pianist but will only play to his own private audience as seen from behind the glass.

In 2014 a study amongst adults attending Gender clinics (Pasterski, et al; 2014),  5.5% were on the Autism spectrum, as opposed to the national average of just 1%. 

Drew’s Autism has many different layers and the anxiety and stress of living with his ACHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorder can be overwhelming. 

He can feel angry and upset as he fights his own internal battles, his masculine side can be seen in  this image while underneath,  he can be loving and gentle. His cat Meg here comforting him without judgement as animals tend to do.

Meg

My discussions with Drew are very wide ranging we’ve often discussed how he processes his thoughts with what he calls a fourth dimension and how he feels able to see, interpret and experience things so differently from other people, that there seems to be another dimension to his thought process. 

He described this concept in terms of a cuboid, asking me to imagine that I could see each face, line and corner by drawing it as two squares, connected at the corners to form a 2-D representation of a 3-D cube. 

He positioned himself at one point using a stick figure and described its location on the cube. 

He then described how if one looked at the shape slightly differently, the stick figure could be interpreted as being located on a different face, in a different position with a whole new perspective and that this could be imagined many times consecutively, without moving the figure. Drew went one step further, suggesting that he could view all points and perspectives at once, inhabiting all locations.

This unique perspective allows him to experience his own identity in a rather extraordinary way, enabling him to draw information about himself from multiple points in time, (a wide range of physicalities, genders, sexualities and personalities. )

They are all facets of himself, he is just able to view himself from multiple perspectives at once.

My thoughts turned to moveable 3-D shapes and quickly on to a Rubik’s cube. After some discussion, Drew had suggested that he could well relate to this popular puzzle and that solving one facet of his life only seemed to mix up the other faces, bringing more questions and issues to the fore. Sometimes he felt that he was so close to the solution only to discover something out of place. Being able to imagine all perspectives may be one thing, but it offers no ability to physically manipulate each face simultaneously. The real agony challenge comes in having to seemingly mix it all back up in order to find the correct algorithm to solve the cube in its entirety.”

  On these cube images I have created the different aspects of Drew’s life representing his autism, his gender, his sexuality, his family life, one square can represent his coming out, his feelings of liberation or peacefulness as he finally started the hormone treatment. Ive also included thoughts and feelings of depression as he does his best to navigate his way through life. It’s difficult to create the dimensions in a 2d image so  I have experimented with 3d imaging creating this representation of Drew’s thought process. This is the first attempt at basic 3d imaging and I hope to create further and better representations as I progress.

Drew has done extensive research and his attention to detail has meant he has navigated his way through the complicated health system and has already begun his hormone treatment self injecting his testosterone prescription into his leg. The injections are symbolic to Drew in that he is now in control of his life. He describes the first injection as the opposite of  gender dysphoria, perhaps  a gender euphoria moment followed by a feeling of peace, of serenity. 

Another gender euphoric moment was his first facial hair shave. Small victories but it gives Drew that feeling of winning of becoming the person, the visible man he has always been.

Like many people living with autism, Drew is a collector, in his case he collects images. He has literally thousands of images on his phone and very few he shares with others. The images he does use on social media are to document his journey. It’s his visual way of telling his story. He goes on to say

“ I am not seeking approval or validation about whether or not I am “a real photographer” and “whether or not this is actually art” – this is for me. This liberation, might allow me to continue to freely produce and share imagery, without prescription or needing to cater for the tastes and desires of others, but this independence only goes so far. Interestingly, despite my self exploration and artistic expression being so deeply personal and subjective, an irony exists in the fact that if I truly wish to form an authentic and complete understanding of myself, I am actually going to need everybody else after all.” Drew(HW 2021)

His need to be visible in order to become invisible to be accepted in the masculine world.

PASTERSKI, Vickie. GILLIHAN, Liam. CURTIS, Richard. 2013. Archives of Sexual Behaviour. 43. 

MAGLATY, Jeanne. 2011. When did Girls start wearing Pink? Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/ [accessed 24/04/2021]

Quotations by Drew H.W. Jackson

Reading List

BOOKS

BARTHES, Roland. 1980. Camera Lucida. London. Vintage.

BERGER, John. 1967. Understanding a Photograph. London. Penguin.

BUTLER, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. New York. Routledge.

DUGAN, Jess T. FABBRE, Vanessa. 2018. To Survive on this Shore. Berlin. Kehrer

GREEN, Jamison. 2020. Becoming A Visible Man. Nashville. Vanderbilt. .

HARARI, Yuval Noah. 2011. Sapiens, A brief History of Humankind. London. Vintage.

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2019. The Social Photo – On Photography and Social Media. London/New York. Verso.

SONTAG, Susan. 1978. On Photography. London/New York. Penguin.

VALERIO, Max Wolf. 2006. The Testosterone Files. Emeryville. Avalon.

Week 9 Video Presentation

I have added my peer’s comments and will try to answer them and to help find a way to present my written assignment

LAYLA PERCHAL

Doug – I believe your intent is being reached.

You have managed to position yourself as an ally and story teller. I have been interested in this project from its conception and this latest summary really solidifies your research and efforts to both document and explain and further create a shared narrative. The summation of your current practice prompts me to discover more about the trials and experiences of the transgender community. The choices of other photographers who have documented this topic that have inspired you give context but I would like to see more; Drew actively featuring in the video with the inclusion of personal yesteryear photos is a tender addition. This feels like you are invited to share a diary almost. I am looking forward to seeing your photos of Drew when you can meet up again.

This story also touches on how you have adapted around the pandemic and chose to develop other skills. 

Perhaps some of the narration could be smoother and as mentioned I would have liked to have seen more of other photographer’s documentation following the transition process. However fitting this all into ten minutes is an achievement.

Well done.

Thank you Layla, you make some valid points. I do need to include more references to other practitioners which i hope to do in my written assignment. It was tough to include it all in 10 minutes. Somehow, i was really nervous to present this one and I think it shows in my voice.

JonJo Burrell

Completely took me by surprise Doug. From your previous work to now I was shocked in a good way. I absolutely love what you’re doing, and the way you talk about it.

A tutor may scrutinise which is more important, the autism or coming out? I think it is up to you to prove both aspects are equally important and serve each other.
Drew has a brilliant way of talking about himself and shows strong self-awareness. 

Only thing off top of my head is what artists have you looked at, and where do you see it going at the end?

Thanks Jonjo, I hope to include many more practitioners in my written assignment. Despite extensive research, I cannot find any photographers who have investigated the link between autism and gender dysphoria. It’s good you picked up on Learning Outcome LO4 as I did miss that on the last module. thoughts at the moment is to produce a book or ebook telling his story but we are also looking at an exhibition using both images and video with symbolism and 3D work.

Andrea Taverna

Hello Doug,  and thanks for sharing your work with us. 

As we discussed before, your work has many common points with my project and I can see that your approach to issues of transitions has produced results which go quite deep. I can’t say that I enjoyed watching it as I feel a lot of pain exuding from  your story. It is indeed a form of pain which leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth, and  makes me wonder whether I should consider a different trajectory with my subjects. 

Well done!!!

Thanks for the feedback Andrea, I will discuss my plan or intention with the project in my Critical review essay, the lack of references and other artists is something i will make sure is in there too. There is pain in there Andrea but I can see a difference in Drew since he came out. My biggest fear is not doing justice to his remarkable and extraordinary journey.

Matthew Thomas

Hi Doug, this was fantastic. Just a few points to say. The image of the fruit pastilles is such a good one that I think it could be expanded with more context, possibly with the Rubiks cube? Speaking of the Rubiks cube, I think it would be better with mostly pics of Drew and maybe just a couple of flags. Is it possible to connect, in some way the cuboid and the Rubiks cube? It’s a difficult one to do I know but there must be some way of constructing that (in CGI?). This was a great presentation. 

Hi Matthew, thanks for your input, the pastilles I have many ideas for including sexuality but just did not have the space. I also built a mini Stonehenge from them but my son thought I was bonkers, he’s probably right too.  CGI is an interesting concept too, cheers, you have given even more food for thought. 

Ovwerekogba Okonedo

I think you have a fantastic subject matter and I enjoy hearing how your relationship with Drew is changing you. I don’t know whether it’s your intention, but from the images and the narrative you have shared I don’t feel myself rooting for Drew. I feel like I am missing something. I might be jumping the gun and your portfolio will probably have that thing I am searching for in your project. I feel like you have an opportunity to make “non believers believe”. I also feel like your personal journey and evolution is equally as important as Drew’s journey; I would also love to know how Drews experience is affecting the people he loves? Just to repeat myself: when you start talking about your thoughts it feels like magic to me. I am fortunate enough to be close to you on this course, so I look forward to seeing this project in its full entirety.

Thanks Ore, We have spoken since this comment and I get where you are coming from. I’m not sure if I am the right person to be a cheerleader for Trans rights but I do hope to raise awareness with my work and also to try and show that regardless of gender, people should always be treated with respect and dignity.

Colin Pantall

Hi Doug

Oh, that is great to hear the voice of Drew. I think the thoughtfulness of the process, your reflexive attitude to both Drew, gender and yourself are what marks this project out. 

I think that is what brings all those different elements together (and they are all really interesting elements) – your changing perception of yourself as Drew changes – and the quotes from Drew really help focus that. 

It’s an immensely complex subject which you are dealing with with respect, thoughtfulness and consideration and I think that, and how it has affected you, could help you shape the entire project -as a first person piece that might be diaristic in nature – how you understand yourself through understanding Drew. I say that because you are so eloquent at talking about the project and Drew and that is how I understand these images. 

So perhaps think of it as  a reflexive project (remember Bill Nichols) . 

Colin

PS Keep researching into more specifically into ideas of self, representation, and masculinity.

Thank you Colin,

Masculinity

What does it mean to be a man?

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Fig.1 Man card

I’ve never questioned my own masculinity, I always knew I was a boy that grew kicking and screaming into a man. I had an healthy interest in girls and a very unhealthy interest in alcohol, the latter I kicked in my early 20s. Sexuality was assured wasn’t it? The old ‘backs against the wall’ gags and gay or bent if you felt any sort of emotions were rife in my workplace. It even shaped my career choosing to work in a quarry over an office. Man’s work I told myself. Yet inside I knew I was not a man’s man, girls intrigued me and were my preferred company. My male friends were mostly alpha males, confident and authoritative, I guess they did not see me as threat to their influence and power. I tried to be a hard man but failed miserably, preferring to be with a girlfriend than getting beat up in fight with the lads from down the road. Yet I cannot deny the maleness I project, the need to be seen as a real MAN , to always be right, headstrong and at times bullish.

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Fig.2 The Man Box, Tony Porter (2010)

The collaboration with Drew has made me question my own masculinity and my own behaviour.

‘I’ve been pretty shocked to see how many liberal men quickly dis-identify with sexist behaviour (“I’m not that kind of guy”) without once looking at where they actually are that kind of guy. ‘ Thomas Page McBee (2018)

There is a plethora of advice on the internet on how to be a real man. Some are funny, some are frightening. This list from Pastor Clint Pressley on 99 steps to Manhood widely shared on twitter states I need to own a Fountain pen and not to wear Cargo pants. I think I have failed already.

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Fig 3. 99 Steps to Manhood. Pastor Clint Pressley.

Historically the role of men was to be the breadwinner. I often hear stories of the silent father who went to work, came home ate his dinner and then went to the pub/allotment/hobby hardly speaking to his children. My own for example.

Times have changed. Jonathan Wells noted in his 2016 telegraph article that

Women have broken free from the ascriptive restrictions of gender — but so have men. Fathers are progressively taking a more active role in child-rearing, husbands are tackling more typically feminine chores such as cooking and laundry, and sons are being raised in a world where they’re told it’s socially acceptable to enjoy both football and Love, Actually. ‘(2016)

It’s difficult from the tone in which is written to know if he approves or not.

It’s what makes my collaboration with Drew so interesting. He is a Trans guy finally looking to live his authentic life and looking to me to answer some of the peculiarities of the male world when I am not sure of the answers myself. The journey so far has been educating and rewarding for us both.

Bibliography

DENIA, Daniel. 2016. ‘How is traditional masculinity being questioned?‘ [online] https://medium.com/@danieldinia/how-is-traditional-masculinity-being-questioned-b3ed6fddfc1e [accessed 24,february 2021].

FEMINISTA. 2019. ‘Christian Pastor Shares 99 Rules Towards Manhood And It’s A Definition Of Toxic Masculinity?‘ [online] https://www.gucmakale.com/wp/christian-pastor-giver-out-99-rules/ [accessed 24,february 2021].

FESSLER, Leah. 2018. ‘A powerful trans author says America socializes boys to fail. Quartz magazine  [online]. Available at https://qz.com/work/1415229/a-powerful-trans-author-says-america-socializes-boys-to-fail/ [accessed 24 February 2021].

The Body and the Land

The first person I asked about imagining the land as feminine was Drew. Being a Transman who had lived in a female role for the majority of his life, I thought he would have an unique perspective on this theory that we as males dominate the landscape. He didn’t see it that way.

‘I don’t think I do actually gender nature… I’m thinking about those stereotypically “feminine” aspects of it, such as particular colours, flowers, smooth rock formations or delicate animals and structures and even then, I don’t get any feeling of gender.’ Drew H.W.

In Bright’s 1985 article she says

 ‘Merely supplementing the limited canonical notions of landscape photography with an-Other, equally limited and ahistorical, may have the short-term effect of populating the walls of “women’s spaces” with a certain easily identifiable style of work, but as was the case with the first phase of feminist painting in the early 70s, it will only serve to create new sexist stereotypes or entrench old ones more deeply.’

Combining both Steph and Jesse’s lecture videos, I found these two stunning adverts from the tobacco industry. First the male structure of land and power signified in a packet of cigarettes and the strap line ‘Big Flavor’ and the almost patronising image of a female face on Mount Rushmore with the strapline ‘You’ve come a long way baby’

fig 1. R.J Reynolds and Phillip Morris Tobacco Companies 1973

Growing up in the Scottish Borders, it always intrigued me that nearly every small hill has a folly built on it mostly by men to remember themselves or significant others. ‘Baron’s Folly’ was built in 1780 by Baron Robert Rutherford as a summerhouse and it’s claimed also a meeting place for him and his lover of the time. It’s perhaps inevitable that men have dominated the landscape historically simply because of how it was used with landowners like the Baron inheriting vast tracts of it.

Fig 2. Baron’s Folly Image by Borders Ariel Photography

Yesterday’s follies are today’s works of art perhaps. Antony Gormley’s Another Place in Crosby, Merseyside. 100 larger than life sculptures of himself stuck in the sand staring out into the Mersey Estuary. All male, complete with ‘details’ as my two young companions in the below photo remarked.

Fig.1. Another Place, 2015. Antony Gormley. Photography by Douglas Stenhouse

BRIGHT, Deborah. 1985. Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, by Deborah Bright (1985). An Inquiry into the Cultural Meanings of Landscape Photography. Available at: htt (Links to an external site.)Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men, by Deborah Bright (1985) | by exposure magazine | exposure magazine | Medium (Links to an external site.) https://medium.com/exposure-magazine/re-exposure-of-mother-nature-and-marlboro-men-201dc897fc6c [accessed 22 February 2021].

Fig 1. Smoke gets in your eyes: 20th century tobacco advertisements [online]. Available at: https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2014/03/smoke-gets-in-your-eyes-20th-century-tobacco-advertisements.html [accessed 23 February 2021].

Fig 2 Borders Ariel Photography https://borders.co.uk/listing/borders-aerial-photography/

Fig 3. Douglas Stenhouse

The Social Photo on Photography and Social Media

by Nathan Jurgenson

The language of photography has always intrigued me.

I take YOUR photo but it still belongs to me, unless of course you buy it, I still own the copyright although again this too is becoming a grey area as seen in the court case of Cariou-v-Prince. (Boucher 2014)

In the dance world where I work, the social photo is well established. I spend each week travelling from event to event (before lockdown), and have the exclusive right to photograph dancers on the floor. My images are markers in a dancer’s short career, beginner to champion. A new costume, a first final, a trophy, all leading up to the one of the biggest dance events of the year at Blackpool tower ballroom,

Fig.1 DKKQ Blackpool 2019

As well as my dance action shots, dancers can be seen taking selfies with their friends, making Tik Tok videos, parents finding space to show off their child with a new costume or new make up and hair. The dance world is a one big ready made social photo experience.

My events photography could be seen as social image business reliant on quick sales. I have often stayed up late after an event to start the upload in the knowledge another event will begin in 5/6 days time and I only have a small opportunity for the images to be seen and decision to buy made before the dance parents start preparing for the next event.

This fits in with Jurgenson’s assertion; ‘Our contemporary documentary vision positions the present as a potential future past, creating a nostalgia for the here and now’ page 7

What I was intrigued with was his chapter on the use of filters or what they really are, layers, to make modern day smartphone images look aged or more authentic to create nostalgia for a time gone by. This is not a new idea, I remember the oldie world family portraits on Blackpool Pier printed in a mucky sepia. We have enhanced photographs through printing technics and camera filters for decades. We all have used an UV or ND filter right? A Polariser to bring out the blue sky and fluffy white clouds. I use Photoshop layers to convert my studio images to black and white for effect just like Ansell Adams used the zonal system to get detail into the shadow areas that the camera and film with his exposure could not see by his use of dodging and burning in the darkroom.

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” is a famous quote of his. (Adams 2019)

Is it any different to modifying pixels in Hipstomatic or Instagram? Jurgenson points out that is in fact a lot easier (Page 9) . Look at these two images I took of dancer Estelle, one is the original image, the other filtered using Instagram, which one will the customer like better?

The World of Selfies

‘The Impossible science of the unique being’ Barthes (30)

Selfies are great aren’t they? There, I’ve said it. The ultimate Punctum Barthes might have added had they been around in his time. It has basically brought millions of people back into the world of the photography. People who could not be bothered with cameras, exposure, running down to Boots to drop a film off. It has totally revitalised an industry which was running out of ideas. In my earlier life in photography, one of my customers had a chain of 160 independently run minilabs. All gone, as are countless others throughout the world. Digital selfies must make up a huge proportion of the billions of images on phones, clouds and hard drives. I see some of the ideas the young photographers of today are using and utilising and think it’s magnificent.

‘O would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us’

Robert Burns 1786

The selfie can be your looks, an experience or a wander in the snow , it defines you as you see yourself as a person. My research project following Drew’s transition is a great example. Drew’s selfies are all different but all taken at the same angle. You never see one of his ears, taken slightly to the side and upwards, each image he published he seeks to define how he sees himself.

It’s interesting some of my peers on this course would rather take a photo of their feet or where they have been to define themselves. Portrait Selfies are definitely a generational thing

It is developing fast too. I recently had a Champion Irish dancer in my studio to shoot for one of her sponsors. Lexie -Leigh is well known it her dance genre winning many trophies and well respected. However, she is now what is known as a viral influencer with Instagram, Tik Tok and Snapchat channels. Her Tik Tok channel alone has 245 thousand followers and some videos have over 800 thousand views. She receives free products to promote on her channel and is a prolific poster. She’s now famous for being famous. ( I said this to my 25 year old daughter and she replied what’s wrong with that?)

fig 4. Champion Irish Dancer Lexi-leigh

https://www.tiktok.com/@lexileighh?lang=en

it all adds weight to Jurgenson’s theory about the social photo being not about the subject but about their experience, the lifestyle, even the fame. Look at me isn’t what a selfie is about, it is look at my life, look how i define myself, look at where I am now; perhaps it should be look at where I am going.

‘The so-called Zuckenberg law of information sharing – that each year we will personally share twice as much information as the proceeding year’ Jurgenson (p60)

Bibliography

Adams, Ansell www.goodreads.com/quotes/44754-you-don-t-take-a-photograph-you-make-it [accessed 23rd Jan 2020]

BOUCHER, Brian. Landmark copyright Carou vs Prince is settled: Avaialble at www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/landmark-copyright-lawsuit-cariou-v-prince-is-settled-59702/ {accessed September 2020]

Barthes, Roland & WELLS Liz. Extracts from Camera Lucida: Routledge 1980

BURNS, Robert 1786. To a Louse: Available at http://www.robertburns.org/works/97.shtml [accessed 24th January 2020]

JURGENSON, Nathan. 2019. The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media London: Verso.

Figure 1: Douglas Stenhouse Tower Ballroom December 2019

Figure 2: Douglas Stenhouse. Bridges Photoshoot July 2017

Figure 3: Drew HWJ. Selfies at home August 2020

Figure 4: Douglas Stenhouse, Dance ON Tan Photoshoot July 2020